Jackson Jr. Pleads Guilty To Misusing Campaign Funds

Former congressman faces up to 57 months in prison

Former Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. on Wednesday pleaded guilty in federal court to misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds.

Jackson acknowledged the charges against him, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements, and entered a guilty plea per an agreement he signed and was filed last week.

The former congressman last week was charged with spending $750,000 of campaign cash on personal items such as a $4,600 Michael Jackson fedora and a $1,500 black-and-red cashmere cape.

Jackson told Judge Robert Wilkins the charges are an "accurate statement" of what he did, and when asked how he wishes to plead, answered "Guilty, your honor."

The charges require a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and an order of restitution. Because Jackson accepted responsibility, he is eligible for a lesser sentence of between 46 to 57 months and a fine between $10,000 and $100,000. The final decision, though, will be with the judge.

"I'm not bound by the sentencing guidelines," Judge Wilkins said, noting he cannot go beyond the maximum of five years. "The sentencing guidelines are advisory, and they are something I am bound to consider." 

"I don't know what sentence you're going to get," Judge Wilkins said. "You don't know what sentence you're going to get."

Prosecutors said Jackson knew the unlawful nature of a "shared or unlawful plan" that he willfully joined. When asked if he committed the offenses described by the prosecution, Jackson acknowledged he did.

Jackson acknowledged that by pleading guilty, he waived his right to a jury and trial.

"I am freely aware of the fact that I am giving up my right to trial," he said.

He was ordered to surrender his passport and report to pretrial services weekly. He can travel outside of the D.C. area but can only live at either his D.C. or Chicago address pending sentencing.

Wednesday's appearance was Jackson Jr.'s first in public since taking medical leave last summer for treatment of bi-polar disorder. He entered the courtroom holding hands with his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, who later in the day entered a guilty plea to a charge she falsified her tax returns and reported less income than she made.

The single charge against the former alderman carries a maximum prison sentence of three years, but one of her attorney's, Tom Kirsch, said the plea agreement calls for significantly less time.

When asked by the judge whether Jackson Jr.'s hospitalization for bi-polar disorder affected his ability to understand the charges, he responded, "I fully understand the consequences of my actions."

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