U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen held a news conference Wednesday, after former U.S. congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud his re-election campaigns of $750,000.
“Today’s guilty plea is nothing short of tragic,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “Jesse Jackson Jr. entered public life with unlimited potential, but squandered his bright future by engaging in a self-destructive course of conduct that was staggering in both degree and scope.”
According to the government’s evidence, Jackson and his wife Sandra Stevens Jackson began their fraudulent scheme in 2005 by using a credit card belonging to the “Jackson for Congress” campaign to purchase personal items.
The couple spent more than $10,000 in electronics from Best Buy, including multiple flat-screen televisions and multiple Blu-ray DVD players. Other expenditures included restaurant, nightclub and lounge costs of more than $60,000.
Jackson also purchased several fur coats and parkas with campaign funds and shipped them from a Beverly Hills furrier to his Washington D.C. home. More than $37,000 of campaign funds were also used to pay contractors who performed repairs and renovations on that home.
In all, fraudulent credit card purchases totaled $582,773. Direct expenditures from the campaign, including checks and withdrawals, totaled $57,792. Those expenditures included the purchase of a $43,350 Rolex watch and the payment of personal credit card debt of $14,442.
After Jackson pleaded guilty in federal court, his defense attorney suggested that his recently diagnosed bipolar disorder played a role in his criminal conduct.
“I’m sure Mr. Jackson’s attorneys will have an opportunity to put forth their side of the story,” said Machen. “I want to hear what they have to say, but it’s hard for me to imagine how they’re going to reconcile this scheme as being a byproduct of any recent medical condition.
“Mr. Jackson engaged in this scheme starting in 2005, it’s a seven-year scheme. He was an efficient congressman. I don’t think he missed a lot of votes during this seven-year period. He was engaging in some of this conduct, some of this theft, at the same time he was giving speeches at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
“For seven years, Mr. Jackson betrayed the very people he inspired by stealing their campaign donations to finance his extravagant lifestyle. His fall from grace will hopefully chasten other leaders who are tempted to sacrifice their ideals and integrity to line their own pockets.”
Machen had stern words for other elected officials who might engage in similar conduct.
“This investigation and these guilty pleas demonstrate that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to pursue all allegations of public corruption and prove that no one in this country is above the law, to include those who make our laws.”
Jackson faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.