WASHINGTON, Feb 21 – Former US congressman Jesse Jackson Jr, the son of the well-known civil rights leader, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to stealing $750,000 (Sh65 million) in campaign donations to fund a lavish lifestyle.
The admission capped a stunning fall from grace for the Illinois Democrat who was once a rising national star but resigned under a cloud in November after 17 years in the House of Representatives.
“Today’s guilty plea is nothing short of tragic,” US Attorney Ronald Machen said.
“Jesse Jackson, Jr. entered public life with unlimited potential, but squandered his bright future by engaging in a self-destructive course of conduct that was staggering in both degree and scope.”
Prosecutors said Jackson used campaign donations to pay for around 3,100 “personal expenses” ranging from groceries, dry cleaning and movie tickets to children’s furniture, home renovations, fur capes, lavish vacations, a $43,350 (Sh3.7 million) gold-plated Rolex watch and memorabilia that included one of pop icon Michael Jackson’s guitars.
“For seven years, Mr. Jackson (Jr) betrayed the very people he inspired by stealing their campaign donations to finance his extravagant lifestyle,” Machen said in a statement.
“His fall from grace will hopefully chasten other leaders who are tempted to sacrifice their ideals and integrity to line their own pockets.”
Jackson, 47, faces up to five years in prison on charges of conspiracy, making false statements, and mail and wire fraud, but his lawyer told reporters that he hoped for a lenient sentence.
“We’re hopeful and we expect that there will be fairness in the process,” defence attorney Reid Weingarten said on the steps of the Washington federal courthouse.
“A person who contributed so much to his community, done so much for so many people, will and should get credit for it.”