WASHINGTON — Former Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandra, learn their fates Wednesday when a federal judge in Washington, D.C., sentences the one-time power couple for misusing $750,000 in campaign money on everything from a gold-plated Rolex watch and mink capes to vacations and mounted elk heads.
The 48-year-old son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson is expected to step before the judge at the hearing to make a statement, a moment defendants typically use to apologize or ask for mercy. An emotional Jackson held back tears earlier this year when he entered a guilty plea to conspiring to defraud his campaign.
Citing the brazenness of his illegal spending, prosecutors are recommending a four-year prison term for the Chicago Democrat once seen as a possible candidate for U.S. president. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson — who is not related to the defendants — could give him as little as probation or impose the maximum five-year prison term.
Sandra Jackson, 49, a former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns, and prosecutors are seeking 18-month sentence for her crimes. But as a concession, they have asked that the couple's sentences be staggered so one Jackson would be free to care for their two children while the other is behind bars.
In letters to the court prior to Wednesday's sentencing, the former congressman's family urged the judge to go easy on him, blaming much of his bad behavior on his recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
"I appeal to you for mercy," Jackson's father wrote in one letter. "Jesse Jr. is an example as a teacher and counselor who will be better served under supervision and probation."
Jackson's mom, Jacqueline Jackson, describes becoming aware of her son's unraveling a year ago, just before he disappeared from public view. Months later, he resigned his House seat.
"(I) found my son grossly underweight and in poor health," she writes. "When I took him to his Capitol Hill office to prepare for (a) vote, the office was in total disarray, which was most unusual for my son."
But prosecutors dismiss the notion that Jackson's bipolar disorder explains his misdeeds.
There is no proof his mood swings had any bearing on the "3,100 illegal transactions that occurred during the life of the conspiracy," they say in one filing.
They also noted his apparent greed. The combined annual salaries of Jackson and his wife were more than $300,000 during much of the time they were burning through donors' money.
Prosecutors took particular umbrage at defense claims that Jackson's crimes were ultimately victimless. Jackson betrayed voters, they told the judge, and he undermined the democratic process by shaking public confidence in the nation's campaign-finance system.