Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has reportedly signed a deal in recent days that includes his pleading guilty to misusing his campaign funds and ultimately leaves the matter of a possible jail sentence up to a judge.
NBC Chicago reports that Jackson would have to repay the government "hundreds of thousands" of dollars for campaign funds that he spent on personal items -- such as a $40,000 Rolex watch he purchased for a female "social acquaintance" -- as part of the deal.
According to CBS Chicago, Jackson could be facing a punishment ranging anywhere from probation to a five-year prison sentence. The severity of the punishment will reportedly be decided by a federal judge who has not yet been named.
Sources told ABC Chicago the deal -- including a guilty plea for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements -- was signed on Feb. 1 and that federal prosecutors will be seeking a maximum sentence of five years.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a legal watchdog group, released a statement on Jackson's reported plea deal:
"Campaign finance law is clear: Candidates are prohibited from using campaign funds for personal expenses. For Rep. Jackson and all other candidates for federal office, using campaign funds to buy a $40,000 Rolex watch and furniture for one’s home isn’t just unseemly — it’s flat-out illegal. ... The people of Illinois deserve much more from their federally elected officials."
Reports emerged late Wednesday that the disgraced former congressman was working on a plea deal that would "definitely" include "significant" jail time. This week also brought news that federal investigators are looking into the campaign finances of Jackson's wife, former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson in a separate probe.
A source told the Chicago Sun-Times this week that they felt that Sandi "feels like she was thrown under the bus by her husband" now that the feds are looking into her activities. Jackson's plea deal, according to CBS, includes an acknowledgment that Sandi was aware of the improper campaign fund usage.
Sandi Jackson, who represented Chicago's 7th Ward, abruptly resigned from her post last month despite previous denials that she was quitting the City Council. She attributed her resignation to her family's health problems but did not mention a federal investigation.
Jesse Jackson Jr., 47, resigned late last November from Congress while citing personal health issues and acknowledging that he was under federal investigation. Jackson had previously been on medical leave from Congress while the Chicago Democrat sought treatment for bipolar II disorder.
A special primary election to replace Jackson Jr. in Congress is slated for Feb. 26. A general election will follow on April 6.
This is a developing story.