Former Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced Wednesday to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to misusing $750,000 in campaign money.
Jackson, 48, son of well-known civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., told a federal judge at his sentencing hearing in Washington he was sorry he “misled the American people.”
“I take responsibility for my actions and am very sorry for what I’ve done,” he said.
Jackson’s wife, Sandra, a former Chicago alderman, also Wednesday was sentenced to one year in prison for filing joint federal income tax returns that understated the couple’s income.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the former congressman can serve his prison time first in order to allow one parent to care for the couple’s two children. He could begin serving his term by year’s end.
According to federal investigators, Jesse Jackson admitted that he and his wife used campaign credit cards to buy 3,100 personal items worth $582,772, including personal expenditures at restaurants, nightclubs and dry cleaning.
The judge criticized the Jacksons for using campaign funds as a “personal piggybank” and covering up the crime.
Jackson once was considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. But his political and personal life came under fire last year as news reports circulated that the Chicago Democrat had been under federation investigation over his role in discussions about raising money for then-Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s campaign in exchange for Blagojevich appointing him to President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat in late 2008.
Jackson was never charged in the Blagojevich scandal, but the former governor was convicted and sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in prison on charges connected with the awarding of the Obama seat.
Jackson resigned from the House in November shortly after winning a 10th term to office. He cited failing health as the reason but acknowledged he was cooperating with a federal investigation “into my activities.”
He took a leave of absence from the House in June 2012, citing exhaustion and never returned. Later it was revealed he was receiving treatment for bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Despite not campaigning for re-election and news reports that he was under federal scrutiny for possible criminal activity, Jackson defeated his Republican challenger in November by 40 percentage points.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Jackson faced a potential 57 months in prison. Jackson’s lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, asked for a lenient sentence, arguing his mental health might worsen under the stress of incarceration.
Rev. Jackson, while speaking with reporters outside the federal court, said he was grateful the judge considered his son’s bipolar disorder in his sentencing.
“I don’t know how I missed so many signs,” the senior Jackson said of his son’s mental condition. “He was very sick. People speculating, ‘Is he faking it?’ No, he’s not.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.