WASHINGTON (CNN) — Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., once a rising Democratic star whose political fortunes imploded over crimes to finance lavish living, was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Wednesday.
“I misled the American people,” Jackson, 48, said before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson imposed the term, which she said should be served in Alabama.
The ex-Illinois lawmaker’s wife, Sandi, received a 12-month sentence for her role in her husband’s misuse of roughly $750,000 in campaign funds over several years.
The pair pleaded guilty in February to various charges — Jackson to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, and false statements; and his wife to filing false tax returns.
A smooth politician and the son of a civil rights leader and one-time political heavyweight, Jackson admitted to years of using campaign money to pay for things such as vacations, furs and Michael Jackson memorabilia.
In a statement read in court, Jackson said he wanted to be held accountable for his actions and he knew what he did was wrong.
He also asked the judge to not punish his wife for what he said “was a subset of what I did.”
“I ask that my kids not suffer from my actions,” Jackson said of his two children, 9 and 13. “If probation is not available to my wife, give me her time.”
Jackson’s lawyers reiterated that sentiment and asked the court for an 18-month sentence for Jackson and probation for his wife.
“This is not Madoff,” Reid Weingarten, Jackson’s lawyer, said in court, referring to notorious Wall Street swindler Bernie Madoff. “There was no Ponzi scheme.”
Sandi Jackson sobbed through part of her courtroom statement and said she “put her family unit in peril” for filing false tax returns.
“I stand before you today asking for mercy,” she said. “My heart breaks every day with the pain it’s caused my babies. I ask the court for mercy.”
Prosecutors had sought a four-year sentence for Jackson and 18 months in jail and restitution of $168,550 for his wife.
“This is a sad day that involves a waste of talent,” prosecutor Matthew Graves said. “They were in the top 10 percent of household earnings in the United States. There’s just no need for this kind of conduct.”
Graves said that Jackson did not “deserve credit” for his job as a congressman.
“That’s what he was paid to do,” he said.
Jackson’s lawyers pointed to his record in Washington — one they said was good — in arguing for a lighter sentence.
The defense team also requested that Jackson be jailed at federal correctional facilities in either Montgomery, Alabama, or Butner, North Carolina.
Butner is where Madoff is serving his 150-year sentence for investment fraud. Both facilities are minimum security.
“I ask for Alabama so I can be as far away from everybody for a while as I can be,” Jackson said in court. “I want to make it a little inconvenient for everybody to get to me.”
Prosecutors have kept the couple’s children in mind, suggesting the Jacksons serve their sentences consecutively so that one parent is able to be home at all times, but asked the judge not to grant Sandi Jackson probation on account of her children.
“There are numerous parents who are sentenced every day,” Graves said. “That isn’t a basis for a probationary sentence.”
According to court records, Jackson misused about $750,000 in campaign funds from August 2005 through July 2012. Some of the eye-popping spending included $60,000 at Antiques of Nevada, where Jackson bought two hats belonging to the late singer Michael Jackson costing more than $8,000; a $5,000 football signed by U.S. presidents; and memorabilia involving the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and martial artist Bruce Lee.
Jackson and his wife also bought Blu-Ray DVD players from Best Buy, dresses and jewelry from a small boutique and fur capes and parkas from a Beverly Hills, California, furrier.
Jackson served in the House of Representatives from 1995 until 2012, when he took a medical leave of absence and never returned. He was succeeded by Democratic Rep. Robin L. Kelly, who won a special election this year to fill the vacancy in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District.
Jackson’s lawyers later stated he suffers from bipolar disorder.
Outside the courtroom, Jesse Jackson Sr., Jackson’s father and a civil rights leader, told reporters that his son was “unbelievably sick” a year ago, but is now doing better.
“I don’t know how I missed so many signs,” the elder Jackson said.