Jesse Jackson Jr. sentenced to 30 months in prison

Former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., once one of the most promising black politicians in the United States, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 months in prison for misusing $750,000 in campaign funds.

Jackson, a former Democratic representative and the son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., apologized before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson imposed the 2 ½-year sentence.

“I misled the American people,” Jackson said. “I also want to apologize to my dad and my mother,” Jackson said, wiping away tears. “I take responsibility for my actions and I’m very sorry for what I have done,” he said.

Jackson, 48, pleaded guilty in February to one count of felony wire and mail fraud in connection with the thousands of dollars in campaign money he used to pay for living expenses, vacations and luxuries such as fur capes, celebrity memorabilia, mounted elk heads and a Rolex watch.

His wife, Sandra Jackson, a former Chicago city council member, was sentenced to one year in prison and one year of supervised release for falsifying tax returns that failed to report the campaign money as income.

Because the couple have two children — a 13-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son — prosecutors recommended the sentences be served at different times to reduce the impact.

“I stand before you today asking for mercy,” Sandra Jackson said, adding that “my heart breaks every day with the pain it has caused my babies.”

Jackson Jr. asked on Monday that the judge recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that he serve his time at a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, because it would allow him to be closer to his wife and children. The judge said Wednesday she would make that recommendation. The former congressman could begin serving his term by year’s end, and he must also spend three years on supervised release and complete 500 hours of community service.

The sentencing capped a slow downfall for Jackson Jr., a high-profile politician from a storied political family.

Jackson, with the help of his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., was elected to Congress in 1995 at the age of 30 from a district that includes part of the South Side of Chicago. He became one of the most prominent young black politicians in the country, working on issues related to health care and education for the poor.

But his reputation was damaged in recent years after revelations that he had an extramarital affair with a woman from Washington, and there were also allegations that he might have been involved in a scheme to buy Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat after Obama was elected president.

After the 2008 arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was later convicted on 18 counts of corruption, federal investigators uncovered evidence suggesting that Jackson had instructed a fundraiser to offer to make a contribution to Blagojevich’s campaign in exchange for the Senate appointment.

Jackson Jr. served in Congress from 1995 until he resigned after re-election last year, citing health reasons.

He disappeared from public view in the summer of 2012 and speculation swirled for weeks about his condition. At first Jackson Jr. said he was being treated for exhaustion, and his doctor said in July 2012 said he was being treated for a “mood disorder.”

He eventually was treated for at least six weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for bipolar disorder.

U.S. prosecutors asked in June that two of the Jacksons’ houses in Washington and Chicago be subject to forfeiture, along with a bank account holding $80,000, as part of a $750,000 judgment.

Prosecutors asked in a filing this month that the forfeiture motion be delayed until October 25 since Jackson has said he is trying to pay off the judgment.