Compared to other criminally convicted politicians that I have seen, which is a lot, Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi got off easy. But their case also stands out as more tragically bizarre and more pitiful.
Breathtakingly bizarre describes the crimes to which the former congressman -- the civil rights leader’s son, who once dreamed of becoming mayor or senator and beyond -- and his wife, a former member of Chicago’s City Council, pleaded guilty in February: spending $750,000 in campaign funds as their “personal piggy bank,” in the words of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation) in the Washington courtroom before sentencing the two on Wednesday.
That’s a lot of spending. The swag ranged from everyday items like car repairs and trips to Costco to such luxuries as fur wraps, a $43,350 gold Rolex watch, $15,000 in kitchen appliances, $10,000 in children’s furniture, a football autographed by presidents, one of Michael Jackson’s hats and two mounted elk heads -- all spent from funds donated for Jackson’s political campaigns.
Their sentences were lighter than prosecutors had recommended. They wanted four years for Jackson and 18 months for his wife. He received 30 months and she was sentenced to a year.
The pity is that the enormity of the spending spree and their long paper trail, easing the work of federal investigators, only gives credibility to the former congressman’s strongest mitigating excuse: He was not thinking straight.
After he took a medical leave from Congress last summer while under federal investigation, he later was treated for bipolar disorder.
“I’ve had to raise many questions to myself about did I confuse success with sickness,” he said in court, sobbing into a handkerchief. “Bipolar was never part of my lexicon.”
But Judge Jackson, acknowledging reports from Jackson’s psychiatrists that she had read, expressed frustration that they did not offer conclusive guidance as to what his condition had to do with his crimes.