Jesse Jackson Jr. was charged by Federal prosecutors on Friday with one count of conspiracy for allegedly spending $750,000 in campaign money on personal expenses.
The Chicago Democrat’s wife, former alderman Sandra Jackson, was charged with one count of filing false joint federal income tax returns.
Both agreed to plead guilty in deals with federal prosecutors. Their sentencing dates have not been set, but the charges both carry possible sentences of several years in prison. Jackson Jr. also could be ordered to repay thousands of dollars in fines and forfeitures.
Authorities say the returns, for the years 2006 through 2011, knowingly understated the income the couple received.
For all the talk of Jackson aspiring to be a U.S. senator or mayor of the nation’s third-largest city, his career wasn’t ended by attempts to amass political power.
Instead, it was the former congressman’s desire for flashy items — a gold-plated Rolex watch, furs and collectibles, such as Eddie Van Halen’s guitar.
In a state where stop-at-nothing political ambition has been well documented — and often rewarded — the seemingly frivolous cause of Jackson’s undoing is seen by political observers and former colleagues as both nonsensical and sad.
“When you have a magic name like that, he was in position, waiting for the gun to go off, for mayor, the Senate … he was playing with the big guys,” said Paul Green, a longtime political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago who moderated Jackson’s first congressional campaign debate. “To go down for this, you just feel sad.”
While former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich went to prison because he tried to trade President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat for a more prestigious job or millions in campaign donations, Jackson could go to prison for, in part, buying memorabilia tied to martial arts movie star Bruce Lee.
The son of a civil rights icon, Jackson represented Illinois’ 2nd District, which includes part of Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs, for 17 years. He was wildly popular in his heavily Democratic district, consistently winning elections with more than 80 percent of the vote.
Jackson served as national co-chair of Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 and had his eyes on becoming mayor or a senator. But those hopes were dashed when his name surfaced as part of the Blagojevich corruption investigation and with revelations that Jackson had been involved in an extramarital affair.