Jesse Jackson, Jr. was sentenced yesterday to 2 1/2 years for his crimes while a congressman from Illinois. His wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson was sentenced to 12 months in prison for her role in the crimes. The couple was shocked by sentence, even though average citizens often go away for much longer periods for a fraction of the money stolen by the Jackson family. In this case, the Jacksons misappropriated $750,000 but will spend less than three years in jail. This is not an inconsequential sentence. However, the reduction of charges and credit for “cooperation” by the prosecutors is a bit of a surprise given the long course of misconduct and evasion by Jesse Jackson Jr., who publicly claimed credit yesterday for “manning up” to his responsibilities.
Even that sentence is being heralded as a tough ruling given the power and prestige of the Jackson family. As I have previously admitted, I am no fan of the Jackson family. A native Chicagoan, I watched as Jesse Jackson Sr. engaged in a series of questionable practices in building a family empire. The corruption shown by his son and daughter-in-law reflected the relative immunity long held by the family. Indeed, Democratic members remain relatively silent on the whole affair.
The fact is that if an average person rips off victims for a few thousand dollars or steals $750,000 worth of cars, they would be looking at a much longer sentence. Here the Jackson committed a long series of fraudulent acts in raiding campaign funds for personal use –even though the Obama Administration decided to reduce the charges against him in a deal.
In this case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson (who is not related to the couple) actually left it up to the couple to decide who will go to jail first and agreed to stagger their sentences to allow one to remain free while the other is in jail. They opted for Jesse Jackson Jr. to go first.
Outside the courtroom, Jesse Jackson Jr. insisted that “I manned up and tried to accept responsibility for the errors of my ways, and I still believe in the resurrection.” Really? He manned up by first disappearing while in office then running for reelection while absent from Congress and then trying to hold up Congress for special payments to get rid of him.
Despite the demands of the prosecutors for full restitution, Jackson will not have to return the misspent campaign funds on top of the forfeiture under this plea deal for the $750,000. Prosecutors had sought both restitution and forfeiture. The couple used the money to buy jewelry, pay for spas, take vacations, and other luxuries over the course of many years.
Nevertheless, after reducing the charges against Jackson, the prosecutors said that Jackson deserved credit for cooperating with the investigation, and for agreeing to plead guilty. This seemed to ignore his years of evasion in public office, forcing the city to spend millions in a special election, and trying to hold up Congress. He “cooperated” only after the clear proof of criminality was uncovered and he had fled into isolation at an undisclosed treatment facility. Then there is his abuse of a position of authority as a public servant which usually serves as an aggravator to push sentencing to the upper range of the sentencing guidelines. Jackson appears to have been given credit for finally acknowledging that he was a crook in public office after he could no longer evade prosecutors or the press.
Notably, the court rejected Jackson’s efforts to claim that a bipolar condition affected his judgment.