CHICAGO – With the authenticity of a guitar supposedly signed by Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen called into question, authorities pulled the plug Friday on an online auction of personal belongings forfeited by Illinois' prison-bound former congressman, Jesse Jackson Jr.
The U.S. Marshals Service began the auction earlier this week to recoup part of the $750,000 in campaign funds the former congressman and his wife illegally spent on memorabilia, furs, vacations and other personal items.
But the agency announced Friday that it was canceling the entire auction "out of an abundance of caution" because of questions about the guitar, which prosecutors say the former congressman bought with campaign money for $4,000.
"Because new information has come to light, we are taking additional steps to review all the items," said Kim Beal, the acting assistant director for the forfeiture division of the Marshals Service.
Among the dozen other items up for auction were pictures purportedly signed by Bruce Lee and a red, fur-trimmed cape. Buyers were supposed to have been able to place bids on any of the Jacksons' former possessions until Sept. 26. But signs that something might be amiss came just hours after the auction started Tuesday when the signed guitar was suddenly struck from the auction list.
The Marshals Service said once a review of the items is complete, it will decide whether to resume the sale of some or all of the items.
The Texas-based company conducting the auction, Gaston & Sheehan Auctioneers, Inc., said it was another contractor for the Marshals Service that was responsible for authenticating the items in advance.
"This is out of the norm," one the auction house's executives, Bob Sheehan, said about the suspension of the sale. He said he didn't know who or what first raised doubts about the guitar.
Bidding was heavy hours after the auction started for a framed poster dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album – and allegedly signed by the pop star himself. The highest bidder by Tuesday evening had offered $1,560 for it.
Jesse Jackson Jr., the 48-year-old son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a one-time golden boy of Democratic politics, was sentence last month to a 2½-year prison term for to scheming to spend campaign funds. The same judge imposed a yearlong sentence on his wife, Sandra.
The Marshals Service sells property seized or forfeited in criminal cases, the proceeds of which are often kicked back into law enforcement. It currently manages more than 23,000 assets worth around $2.4 billion, the agency says.
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