WASHINGTON (AP) — Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to two and a half years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to scheming to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items.
Jackson, the 48-year-old son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November. In an emotional speech to the judge during which he got choked up and used tissues to blow his nose, he apologized and said he wanted to "take responsibility for my actions."
"I misled the American people," he said.
According to court papers in the case, Jackson used campaign money to buy items including a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that as a public official Jackson was expected to "live up to a higher standard of ethics and integrity."
Jackson's wife, Sandra Jackson, also was to be sentenced Wednesday for filing joint federal income tax returns that understated the couple's income. She spent $5,150 in campaign funds on fur capes and parkas, court documents show.
Jesse Jackson Jr. had pleaded guilty to the criminal charges back in February. He admitted that he and his wife used campaign credit cards to buy 3,100 personal items worth $582,772 from 2005 through April of last year — including $60,857 for personal expenditures at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges; $16,058 for personal expenditures at sports clubs and lounges; $5,814 for alcohol and $14,513 for dry cleaning.
Individual campaign credit card purchases included a $466 dinner for two of "a personal nature" at a restaurant; a washer, dryer, range and refrigerator for the Jacksons' Chicago home; multiple flat-screen televisions, Blu-Ray DVD players and DVDs for their Washington, D.C., home; and a five-day health retreat for one of Mrs. Jackson's relatives.
Jackson told another judge when he entered his plea that "for years I lived in my campaign."