WASHINGTON — Former US representative Jesse Jackson Jr., holding back tears, entered a guilty plea Wednesday in federal court to criminal charges that he engaged in a scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. He faces 46 to 57 months in prison, and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000, under a plea deal with prosecutors.
A few hours later, his wife, Sandra Jackson, pleaded guilty to filing false joint federal income tax returns that knowingly understated the income the couple received. She faces one to two years in prison and a fine of $3,000 to $40,000.
In a 17-page prosecution document, Jackson’s wife admitted that from mid-2006 through mid-October of last year, she failed to report $600,000 in income that she and her husband earned from 2005 to 2011.
Before entering the plea to a conspiracy charge, Jesse Jackson told US District Judge Robert L. Wilkins, ‘‘I’ve never been more clear in my life’’ in his decision to plead guilty.
When Wilkins asked if Jackson committed the acts outlined in court papers, Jackson replied, ‘‘I did these things.’’ He added later, ‘‘Sir, for years I lived in my campaign,’’ and used money from the campaign for personal use.
Jackson, 47, dabbed his face with tissues, and at one point a court employee brought some tissues to Jackson’s lawyer, who gave them to the former congressman. Jackson told the judge he was waiving his right to trial.
‘‘In perfect candor, your honor, I have no interest in wasting the taxpayers’ time or money,’’ he said.
US Attorney Ronald Machen called the guilty plea ‘‘nothing short of tragic.’’
‘‘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,’’ Machen said. ‘‘For seven years, Mr. Jackson betrayed the very people he inspired by stealing their campaign donations to finance his extravagant lifestyle.’’
Jackson had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 28, and his wife on July 1. Wilkins, who presided over both guilty pleas, is not bound by the terms of the plea agreements. Both Jacksons are free until sentencing.
Since last June, Jesse Jackson has been hospitalized twice at the Mayo Clinic for treatment of bipolar disorder and other issues, and he stayed out of the public eye for months, even during the November elections. His lawyer said after the court appearance that Jackson’s health is ‘‘not an excuse’’ for his actions, ‘‘just a fact.’’
Jackson entered the courtroom holding hands with his wife and looking a bit dazzled as he surveyed the packed room. He kissed his wife and headed to the defense table.
Jackson’s father, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, sat in the front row. Before the hearing started, he wrote notes on a small piece of paper. When the proceedings started, he sat expressionless and virtually motionless, hands folded. As he made his way back to the courtroom for Sandra Jackson’s hearing, he took in a deep breath and let out a sigh. Several other family members also attended.
Sandra Jackson, 49, sobbed during her hearing, as her husband watched from the row behind the defense table. Sandi, as she’s known, was a Chicago alderman before she resigned last month during the federal investigation.