WASHINGTON — Prosecutors Friday recommended four years in prison for former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., following his guilty plea this year on criminal charges that he engaged in a scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items.
The government suggested an 18-month sentence for Jackson's wife, Sandra, who pleaded guilty to filing false joint federal income tax returns that understated the couple's income.
The government is also recommending that Jackson pay $750,000 in restitution to the campaign and that Sandra Jackson make a restitution payment of $168,000.
Because the couple has two children, prosecutors proposed that the sentences be staggered, with Sandra Jackson going first. According to the government, she could be out of prison in little over a year with credit for satisfactory behavior and serving the end of her sentence in home confinement. Both Jacksons are scheduled to be sentenced on July 3.
Jesse Jackson's lawyer, meanwhile, asked the judge to sentence Jackson to a term below guidelines. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the range is 46 to 57 months in prison. The lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, argued that Jackson's ongoing treatment for depression and bipolar disorder, his record of good works and his family and community ties all support leniency. Jacksons' sentencing memo includes about five pages of redacted material on his health issues, and a few redacted lines on other issues.
Jackson, who had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November, used campaign money to buy items that included a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch and $9,587.64 worth of children's furniture, and his wife spent $5,150 on fur capes and parkas.
In Friday's 45-page sentencing memo, prosecutors urged the judge to take into account the advantages Jackson, the son of a famed civil rights leader, had in his life. Jackson "chose to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars despite having advantages in life and financial resources that few possess and that most can only dream of obtaining," the prosecutors wrote.
They noted that his yearly salary as a congressman ranged from $133,600 to $174,000, and that his wife's salary as Chicago alderman was also six figures. The memo said that Jackson's campaign paid his wife's consulting firm $5,000 a month during the time of the conspiracy — $340,500 in total.
"Before defendant or his wife stole a dime, they received substantial incomes," the government wrote, adding that in 2011, for example, their combined income was around $344,000 — putting them among the nation's high earners.
"This offense, at its core, is about greed and entitlement: defendant wanting more than even his substantial resources could afford him and believing he was entitled to both the items desired and campaign funds to purchase those items," the government said.
Prosecutors also argued that Jackson's behavior threatened to deter people from making campaign contributions and participating in the political process.
In a 22-page statement filed by prosecutors in February, Jackson admitted that he and his wife used campaign credit cards to buy 3,100 personal items worth $582,772.58 from 2005 through April 2012. Personal expenditures at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges amounted to $60,857.04. Personal expenditures at sports clubs and lounges were $16,058.91, including maintaining a family membership at a gym. Spending for alcohol was $5,814.43. Personal spending for dry cleaning was $14,513.42.
Prosecutors credited Jackson with cooperating with them in the investigation, which helped the government wrap up in weeks what could have taken months. While Jackson deserves credit for accepting responsibility and his level of cooperation, the government said, he already received that significant consideration in how the plea agreement was structured.
In Jackson's sentencing memo, his lawyer wrote that the former congressman's mental health may worsen under the stress of incarceration.
"During sentencing, federal courts have the authority to determine whether a defendant's mental illness warrants a below-guidelines sentence," Weingarten said.
"His public fall from grace has already made an example of him, warning other politicians and elected officials of the dangers of personal use of campaign funds," wrote Weingarten, who went on to detail Jackson's accomplishments in Congress and his help to others.
In a separate memorandum prepared for Sandra Jackson's sentencing, prosecutors said she was personally involved in the thefts, and they noted she served as treasurer of her husband's congressional campaign from January 2005 to November 2006. But prosecutors also credited her for cooperation and accepting responsibility.
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