WASHINGTON -- Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison followed by three years probation by a federal judge in Washington on Wednesday for misusing about $750,000 in campaign funds.
Jackson's wife, Sandra, was also sentenced Wednesday. She will serve one year in prison and was ordered to pay $22,000 in restitution, after pleading guilty to a related charge of filing false tax returns. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is not related to the Jacksons, allowed the couple to stagger their sentences so their children would have at least one parent at all times. Jackson Jr. will go to prison first, followed by Sandra.
Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty in February to using campaign funds to purchase an array of personal items, including Bruce Lee memorabilia, a $43,000 Rolex watch and a mink cashmere cape.
Jackson, the son of the civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, made an emotional plea to the judge Wednesday, wiping his eyes and blowing his nose as he asked the judge for some leniency. He apologized to his constituents and his family.
"If probation is not available to her, give me her time," Jackson said, referring to his wife. He said he needed to be "as far away from everybody for a while that I could be."
Reid Weingarten, Jackson's defense attorney, asked for an 18-month sentence for his client and argued that there were "not widows and orphans surrounding the courthouse" wanting Jackson's head. Weingarten said that there was a time when members of Congress could treat their campaign funds as retirement accounts. "This is not Madoff, this is not a ponzi scheme," Weingarten said.
But a federal prosecutor handling the case called Jackson's fraud one of the most significant abuses of the campaign system that has ever been documented and prosecuted. The government asked for four years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Jackson said the Jacksons used the campaign as a "personal piggybank," but said she was confident that "there will be another chapter" for Jackson Jr. But the judge said that while Jackson did not pose a threat to society, a significant jail sentence was necessary to serve as a deterrent to other politicians who might consider raiding their campaign coffers for personal gain.
"The ethical standard has got to be simply higher than unindicted," Judge Jackson said. She said she would have trouble explaining a probation sentence to the donors whose campaigns funds the couple misused.
Judge Jackson said that the fact that the couple had two young children did not mean that Sandra Jackson could get off with just probation.
"It is not the court that put your children in this position," Judge Jackson said. "It is not the government that put your children in this position," she added, calling the prison sentence "survivable."
Jackson Jr. will have to forfeit $750,000, but Judge Jackson ruled against a government request that the Chicago Democrat additionally pay $750,000 to the defunct campaign fund. The DOJ's request, Judge Jackson said, made no sense and served no purpose, calling the plan "impractical and unworkable" to create a "new campaign from scratch" without any clear goal.
“Jesse Jackson Jr.’s journey from the halls of Congress to federal prison is a tragedy of his own making,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen said in a statement. “Jackson’s political potential was unlimited, but he instead chose to treat his campaign account as a personal slush fund, stealing from the people who believed in him so he could live extravagantly. He squandered his great capacity for public service through outright theft. The prison sentence imposed today should serve as a wake-up call to other public officials who believe there are no consequences for betraying the public trust.”
Jackson Jr. made brief comments to reporters and cameras waiting outside the federal courthouse.
"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 error of my ways, and I still believe in the resurrection," Jackson Jr. said before boarding an awaiting SUV.
This story has been updated following the Jacksons' sentencing.
Former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi, arrive at federal court in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, to learn their fates when a federal judge sentences the one-time power couple for misusing $750,000 in campaign money on everything from a gold-plated Rolex watch and mink capes to vacations and mounted elk heads. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
In this Feb. 20, 2013 file photo, former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr leaves federal court in Washington after he entered a guilty plea to criminal charges that he engaged in a scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
Former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi leave the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, after Jackson entered a guilty plea to criminal charges that he engaged in a scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. Sandi also plead guilty to a related tax fraud charge. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. enters U.S. District Court February 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. Jackson and his wife, Sandi Jackson, pleaded guilty to federal charges after being accused of spending more than $750,000 in campaign funds to purchase luxury items, memorabilia and other goods. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
In this Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 photo provided by the office of former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Kennedy, left, meets with U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. (AP Photo/Office of Patrick J. Kennedy)
In this April 4, 2012 file photo, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, right, and Rep Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. tour the Ford Motor Company Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
In this March 20, 2012 file photo, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. speaks in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
This March 20, 2012 file photo shows Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., his wife Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, and their children Jessica, 12, and Jesse III, 8, thanking supporters at his election night party in Chicago after his Democratic primary win over challenger, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, in the Illinois' 2nd District. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
This March 9, 2012 file photo shows Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. , D-Ill., and his wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, asking each other for their support and votes as they arrive at a polling station for early voting in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
In this Oct. 16, 2011 file photo, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., is seen during the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., talks to reporters after attending a Democratic caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
In this Aug. 5, 2010 file photo, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., right, and his wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, greet President Barack Obama at the Ford Motor Company Chicago Assembly Plant. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
In this April 14, 2010 file photo, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., center, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg, File)
In this March 21, 2010 file photo, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., uses his PDA to photograph demonstrators outside on the U.S. Capitol as the House prepares to vote on health care reform in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
This photo taken March 31, 2009 shows Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jackson is the subject of a preliminary inquiry from a congressional ethics board looking into his attempts to be appointed to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
In this Monday, Aug. 25, 2008 picture, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Jesse Jackson Jr. and Sandi Jackson in 2007.
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2006 file picture, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., speaks at a news conference in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., on hand for former President George W. Bush's signing of the Rosa Parks statue bill in 2005.
President Bush picks up 2-year-old Jesse Jackson III after signing a bill authorizing a statue of civil rights leader Rosa Parks be placed in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Cong. Jesse Jackson Jr. is at left. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) is interviewed by U.S. funded Arabic language television station corresspondent Sara Hessenflow at the 2004 Democratic National Convention July 27, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) gets interviewed by a television crew follow a meeting of the Illinois delegation for the Democratic National Convention July 26, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., speaks to attendees of the United Negro College Fund's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Festival at the Minneapolis Convention Center Monday, Jan. 15, 2001. (AP Photo/Adam M. Bettcher)
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., left, "chokes" coach Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn. prior to the start of the 37th annual Congressional Baseball game at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie, Md. Tuesday June 23, 1998. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Kweisi Mfume, right, greets Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., before the State of the Union Address Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1997, at the Capitol. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
Two generations of Jacksons and Sununus prepare to debate the issues facing the 105th Congress before the start of CNN's "Crossfire" Wednesday, Jan. 8, 1997 in Washington. From left are the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., Rep. John Sununu Jr., R-N.H., and John Sununu. (AP Photo/Tyler Mallory)
Rev. Jesse Jackson hugs his son Jesse Jackson Jr. after being introduced to speak to delegates at the United Center Tuesday, Aug. 27, 1996, in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
In this Dec. 14, 1995 file photo, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., right, gets a kiss from his mother, Jacqueline Jackson, after re-enacting taking the oath of office, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The 30-year-old lawyer, and son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, won a special election to succeed imprisoned ex-Rep. Mel Reynolds. The sweep of Jesse Jackson Jr.'s life, from golden boy who could be president to broken politician, will be laid out for a federal judge in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, as she sentences him and his wife Sandra for misusing $750,000 in campaign money on a gold-plated Rolex watch, mink capes, mounted elk heads and other personal items. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)
Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr., left, thanks supporters as his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, right, looks on Tuesday night, Dec. 12, 1995, in Matteson, Ill. (AP Photo/Michael S. Green)
Jesse Jackson Jr. reads to toddlers at Operation Headstart during a campaign appearance in Chicago Heights, Ill., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 1995. (Charles Bennett)
Jesse Jackson Jr., center, receives a kiss from his wife, Sandi, as the returns solidly show Jackson as the winnner in the 2nd Congressional District primary, Tuesday night, Nov. 28, 1995, in Markham, Ill. Jackson's father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is behind his son at right. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser)
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, center, poses for pictures with sons Jesse Jr., left, and Jonathan, right, after they graduated from North Carolina A&T, May 9, 1988, at the Greensboro Coliseum, and Jackson Sr. gave the commencement address. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Jesse Jackson Jr., left, son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, shown with film director Spike Lee at a luncheon with the candidate at Sylvia’s restaurant in the Harlem section of New York on April 10, 1988. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)