WASHINGTON - The son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson was sentenced to two and a half years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to scheming to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on TV's, restaurant dinners, an expensive watch and other costly personal items.
Jesse Jackson Jr., a former Democratic Congressman, gave an emotional speech to the judge during the sentencing hearing, apologizing and saying he wanted to "take responsibility for my actions."
"I misled the American people," said Jackson, who became choked up and used tissues to blow his nose.
Jackson, 48, had been a Congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November. In letters to the court prior to Wednesday's sentencing, his family urged the judge to go easy on him, blaming much of his bad behaviour on his recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
"I appeal to you for mercy," his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, wrote in one letter. "Jesse Jr. is an example as a teacher and counsellor who will be better served under supervision and probation."
The elder Jackson sat in the front row during Wednesday's proceedings.
"This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for our family," he told a crush of reporters outside the federal courthouse after the sentencing.
According to court papers in the case, Jackson used campaign money to buy items including a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that as a public official, Jackson was expected to "live up to a higher standard of ethics and integrity." After prison, he is to spend three years on supervised release and complete 500 hours of community service.
Jackson's wife, Sandra Jackson, was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison for filing joint federal income tax returns that understated the couple's income. She spent $5,150 in campaign funds on fur capes and parkas, court documents show.
She will serve her sentence after her husband gets out of prison. The couple, who have two children, 13 and 9, asked to serve at separate times.
Jesse Jackson Jr. had pleaded guilty to the criminal charges back in February. He admitted that he and his wife used campaign credit cards to buy 3,100 personal items worth $582,772 from 2005 through April of last year — including $60,857 for personal expenditures at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges; $16,058 for personal expenditures at sports clubs and lounges; $5,814 for alcohol and $14,513 for dry cleaning.
Associated Press reporter Michael Tarm contributed to this report from Chicago.
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