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The stunning fall of Jesse Jackson Jr.
From a rising political star to convicted, jail-bound fraud
 
Jackson's promising political career has likely ended with Wednesday's 30-month prison sentence.
Jackson's promising political career has likely ended with Wednesday's 30-month prison sentence. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) once seemed headed toward a sparkling political career. Now, he's headed to prison.

Jackson, son of the famed civil rights leader and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 months in prison for misusing $750,000 in campaign funds, in what the prosecuting attorney called "one of the most significant abuses of the campaign-finance system" ever. Jackson pleaded guilty in February to improperly spending campaign funds on a $43,000 Rolex, a mink cashmere cape, Michael Jackson's $4,600 fedora, and thousands of dollars worth of "Bruce Lee memorabilia," among other items.

Jackson's wife, Sandra, was also sentenced Wednesday to one year in prison for filing false joint tax returns over a six-year period.

Jackson, who witnesses said was on the verge of tears throughout the sentencing proceedings, apologized to his family and his constituents.

"I misled the American people. I misled the House of Representatives," he said. "I was wrong and I don't fault anyone."

The former congressman represented a Chicago district from 1995 until last November when he resigned from office, citing health concerns and the ongoing federal inquiry into his campaign spending.

Jackson was just 30 years old when he first won election to Congress. His father's high profile and his own image as a progressive crusader quickly earned him a national reputation, stoking expectations that he would in due time rise to the Senate, if not further. Indeed, Jackson's name was routinely included in a promising group of young black Democrats that was led by none other than Barack Obama.

Yet Jackson's career unwound, in part, due to those lofty aspirations.

Jackson was named as "Senate Candidate Five" in the indictment against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who tried sell President Obama's old Senate seat in a "pay to play" scheme. Jackson was never hit with criminal charges in that case, though he did face a House Ethics Committee investigation.

As a result of that incident, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in 2009 named Jackson one of the 15 most corrupt members of Congress.

Around the same time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an inquiry into Jackson's campaign finances. The FBI alleged that Jackson had defrauded his campaign by using campaign credit cards to buy himself and his wife lavish gifts, renovate their home, and to pay for a trip to Disney World. Jackson and his wife ultimately admitted to making some 3,100 personal purchases with campaign funds over a seven-year period, starting in 2005.

As the federal criminal investigation into his campaign expenditures unfolded, Jackson took an abrupt leave of absence from Washington in June 2012, disappearing from public for weeks. At one point, even his staff couldn't say where he had gone.

Finally, it was revealed Jackson had checked into the Mayo Clinic to be treated for what was later diagnosed as bipolar disorder and depression. Though still largely absent from office as he continued to seek treatment, and despite a virtually nonexistent campaign, Jackson won re-election last November.

Two weeks later, he resigned.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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