Jesse Jackson Jr Pleads Guilty To Misusing Campaign Funds On Luxury Items

12:02 PM, Feb 20, 2013   |    comments
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  • Jesse Jackson Jr Getty Images
  • Jesse Jackson Jr Getty Images

Washington-- Former U.S. representative Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty Wednesday to using campaign money to buy more than $750,000 worth of luxury items, collectibles and clothes, marking the fall of a man once heralded as one of Illinois' most promising politicians.

Jackson, the son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, entered his guilty plea in U.S. District Court and now faces up to five years in prison. He is expected to be sentenced in the coming weeks.

His wife, Sandi, a former Chicago alderman facing a separate felon charge for filing false tax returns over six years, will appear in court in Washington later Wednesday and is also expected to enter a guilty plea.

"For years I lived off my campaign," Jackson said before entering his plea. "I used money I shouldn't have used for personal purposes."

The Democratic congressman, who represented a district that included parts of Chicago's South Side and south suburbs, was first elected to office in 1995, replacing Democrat Mel Reynolds, who resigned after being convicted of statuary rape.

Jackson, 47, was re-elected by a wide margin in November despite a looming federal investigation and concerns about his health.

He sought treatment for bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic last year and had been on medical leave for several months when he stepped aside.

Jackson used campaign monies to buy a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch, $5,150 worth of fur capes and parkas, and thousands more in memorabilia from martial arts master Bruce Lee, hats and guitars that once belonged to singer Michael Jackson, and memorabilia linked to slain civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

The cloud of scandal has hovered over Jackson for several years.

A Justice Department indictment of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who is now serving a 14-year federal prison sentence on charges related to trying sell the Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated when he was first elected president in 2008, noted that wiretaps of Blagojevich caught him speaking of a candidate for the seat that was willing to raise campaign money in exchange for the appointment. Federal authorities later identified Jackson as the candidate.

Jackson was never charged with wrongdoing, but the scandal, as well as revelations that he had an affair with a Washington hostess had unraveled a promising career that watchers of Illinois politics predicted would lead to him to running for mayor or the Senate.

In the days leading up to Wednesday's plea, the former congressman was in a fragile state.

"He is struggling with the highs and lows of his bipolar disorder," the elder Jackson said in a statement Monday. "Please pray for him, Sandi and their children."

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