WASHINGTON -- Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison Wednesday for illegally spending $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items, the judge scolding the son of the famed civil rights leader for using the money as a "piggy bank" and sentencing his wife to a year as well.
However, Jackson, who emotionally apologized to his father, mother, congressional colleagues and others, was given significantly less prison time than federal guidelines recommend, recognized by the judge as a "complex person" who has done both good and bad.
Sandra Jackson, a former Chicago alderman, was sentenced for filing false joint federal income tax returns.
After prison, the former congressman is to spend three years on supervised release and complete 500 hours of community service. If he earns credit for good behavior in prison, he could end up serving closer to two years. He agreed to repay the $750,000 when he pleaded guilty earlier this year.
According to court documents, the Jacksons had spent campaign money on TV's, restaurant dinners, an expensive watch and other costly personal items.
Jackson, 48, had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November. In an emotional speech to the judge, he choked up and used tissues to blow his nose. He apologized and said he wanted to "take responsibility for my actions."
"I misled the American people. I misled the House of Representatives. I misled the Federal Election Commission," he said. "I was wrong."
"I also want to apologize to my dad and to my mother," Jackson added, stopping to compose himself.
The elder Jackson, who sat in the front row during the proceedings, told a crush of reporters outside the courthouse later: "This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for our family."
In court, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson recognized Jackson Jr.'s public service on issues such as public education and clean water. "That's what makes this situation so tragic," she said.
But the judge said that if she gave him no jail time it would send a message that there are two systems: one for the well-connected and one for everyone else.
"I cannot do it. I will not do it," she said, adding that as a public official, Jackson was expected to "live up to a higher standard of ethics and integrity." She also said that Jackson's actions could not be excused because of mental illness. He has been treated for bipolar disorder.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of 46 to 57 months – or just under four years to just under five years. The government had recommended four years, while Jackson's lawyers had asked that his sentenced be limited to 18 months.
Jackson's lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, said the case lacked the typical victim found in most criminal cases.
"There are not widows and orphans surrounding the courtroom wanting his head," Weingarten said.
But prosecutor Matt Graves said the crime was serious: "These were extreme abuses," he said.
Sandra Jackson will be permitted to serve her sentence after her husband completes his. The couple, who have two children, 13 and 9, asked to serve at separate times.
"I stand before you today asking for mercy," Sandra Jackson said. "My heart breaks every day with the pain that it's caused my babies."
Her lawyer, Dan Webb, tried to persuade the judge to spare his client jail time, arguing that it would be an "unbearable burden" on the children. But the judge old Mrs. Jackson, "It is not the court that put your children in this position."
Having their mother gone will be difficult for the children, the judge said, but "it is survivable." She said, "Today you have to be held out as an example."
Sandra Jackson also was ordered to serve 200 hours of community service and pay restitution of $22,000 – the amount of money she took from her alderman's campaign account for personal use.
The Jacksons, who pleaded guilty in February, entered the courtroom holding hands.
The judge said Jackson's reporting date for prison would be on or after Nov. 1.
As he got into his SUV to leave, Jackson said, `'I still believe in the power of forgiveness. I believe in the power of redemption. Today I manned up and tried to accept responsibility for the errors of my ways_ and I still believe in the resurrection."
The former congressman's father sat in the front row during the proceedings, surveying the courtroom and writing notes on a piece of paper while waiting for the hearing to start. During a break just before the sentences were announced, he walked over to the defense table and sat down next to his son, who slouched in his chair. Weingarten soon joined them, and the younger Jackson was able to manage a laugh at something one of the other men said.
After the sentencing, the senior Jackson walked over to the prosecution table and shook hands with the prosecutors.
Weingarten told reporters that his camp was satisfied with the court's rulings "but nobody's celebrating today, obviously." He said Jackson had suffered a "fall from grace. ... It's a huge day of sadness."
Associated Press broadcast reporter Gerry Bodlander in Washington and AP reporter Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.
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Dinner at CityZen in Washington, D.C., $466.30
Jackson Jr. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/us/politics/jesse-l-jackson-jr-pleads-guilty-to-wire-and-mail-fraud.html">had quite the dinner there in 2010</a>, the New York Times reports. The Jacksons spent over $60,000 in campaign cash on dining and drinking out at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges.
Men's Rolex watch, $43,350
<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-02-20/news/chi-jesse-jackson-jr-sandi-jackson-plea-hearings-wednesday-20130219_1_sandi-jackson-congressman-jesse-jackson-campaign-funds">Jackson Jr. bought the high-priced Rolex in 2007</a> using cash from a bank account he opened under the title "Jesse Jackson Jr. for Congress," the Chicago Tribune reports.
Personal airfare, $31,700
That's a lot of frequent flyer miles.
Michael Jackson memorabilia, about $28,000
Jackson Jr. purchased about $28,000 worth of Michael Jackson goodies, including a fedora hat (for $4,600), as well as what is described as a "Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen guitar (for $4,000)." The memorabilia was purchased from Antiquities of Nevada. <em>Pictured:</em> The black felt fedora worn by Jackson during his last performance at the Apollo Theatre in April 2002 is on display at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California on the first day of Julien's two-day Music Icons and Sports Legends auction, June 23, 2012.
Tobacco shops, $17,163.36
Jackson Jr. has a well-documented penchant for cigars -- <a href="http://www.thedaily.com/article/2012/10/16/101612-news-jesse-jackson-jr/">and was reportedly seen smoking one</a> by The Daily last fall.
Dry cleaning services, $14,513.42
Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia, about $11,000
Flat-screen TVs and other Best Buy merchandise, $10,997
Multiple flat-screen TVs were among $10,997 <a href="http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/02/20/details-of-jackson-familys-improper-spending-of-campaign-funds/">worth of items purchased at a Best Buy by the Jackson in November 2007</a>, CBS Chicago notes. Other items included Blu-Ray DVD players and DVDs.
Bruce Lee memorabilia, about $10,000
Jackson Jr. bought roughly $10,000 in Bruce Lee memorabilia.
2 Stuffed Elk Heads, $8,000
According to DNAinfo Chicago, Jackson Jr. <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20130220/south-shore-below-79th/jesse-jackson-jr-pleads-guilty">gave his campaign treasurer more than $8,000</a> to buy two mounted elk heads from a Montana taxidermist in 2008. They were shipped in 2011. An undercover FBI agent who said they were an interior designer lat year offered to buy the heads from the treasurer.
Five-day retreat at Martha’s Vineyard Holistic Retreat, $5,687.75
The retreat was reportedly taken by a relative of Sandi Jackson's in November 2008.
Fur capes and parkas, $5,150
Multiple fur purchases reportedly included a cashmere cape from Edwards-Lowell Furs in Beverly Hills.
The cruise was reportedly taken in June 2006.
Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, $2,775
The Hendrix memorabilia was purchased in February 2010.
Trip to Disney World Resort, $2,306
The trip was reportedly taken in March 2007.
Stuffed animals from Build-A-Bear, $313.89
<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-jesse-jackson-jr-sandi-jackson-plea-hearings-wednesday-20130219,0,1510803.story">The Build-A-Bear stuffed animals</a> were purchased around Christmastime in 2007 and 2008, according to the Chicago Tribune.