WASHINGTON— Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was charged today with violating federal law by misusing campaign funds.
Jackson, 47, a Democrat from Chicago, faces felony charges, including conspiracy, in a criminal information filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Typically, federal prosecutors use an information to charge defendants when a plea deal has been negotiated.
His wife, Sandi Jackson, was charged in an information with one count of filing false tax returns.
Jesse Jackson is accused of diverting $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use.
Federal authorities allege that Jesse Jackson used campaign funds to purchase a $43,350 men’s gold-plated Rolex watch, $5,150 worth of fur capes and parkas, and $9,588 in children’s furniture. The purchases were made between 2007 and 2009, according to the criminal information, which authorities noted is not evidence of guilt.
Jackson stepped down from the House of Representatives on Nov. 21, citing both his poor health and an ongoing federal probe of his activities. In a statement then, he said he was doing his best to cooperate with federal investigators and to accept responsibility for his “mistakes.”
In a statement today, Jackson said:
“Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made. To that end I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right.”
Jackson’s political fortunes sank beginning late in 2008, when he sought unsuccessfully to have Gov. Rod Blagojevich appoint him to the Senate seat that came open with the election of then-Sen. Barack Obama to the White House.
Jackson or an emissary reportedly offered to raise up to $6 million in campaign cash for Blagojevich, who now is in federal prison for crimes including trying to sell the Senate seat. Jackson was never charged in the case, which became the subject of an ethics probe in the House.
Last June, Jackson began a mysterious leave of absence for what originally was called “exhaustion” but later emerged as bipolar disorder. He spent months in treatment and won re-election Nov. 6 despite never returning to service in the House or staging a single campaign appearance.
A campaign to replace him is being conducted now in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of the South Side and south suburbs.
Jackson, who was first elected to Congress in 1995, is the son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.. Sandi Jackson was a Chicago alderman until she resigned her post last month. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife have two children.
Sandi Jackson’s firm, J. Donatella & Associates, has been paid at least $452,500 from her husband’s campaign committee since 2002, Federal Election Commission reports show.
The former congressman’s campaign committee reported $105,703 in cash on hand on last Nov. 26, FEC reports show. Leading up to the last election, it reported $1 million in contributions and $1.06 million in operating expenditures, reports show.
Once considered a potential candidate for mayor of Chicago, Jesse Jackson Jr.’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years because of the Blagojevich scandal and also because of news reports in 2010 that a suburban Chicago businessman told federal investigators he twice paid to fly a woman — a hostess from a Washington, D.C. bar — to Chicago at Jackson’s request. In the wake of the reports, Jackson issued a statement calling the woman a “social acquaintance” and describing the matter as a “private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago.”
Jackson subsequently told the Tribune editorial board he had apologized to “my absolute best friend, my wife.”
Still, he also acknowledged he asked longtime supporter Raghuveer Nayak to pay to fly the woman from Washington to Chicago. House ethics rules prohibit members from soliciting gifts of personal benefit. Jackson said Nayak’s purchase was “a friendly gesture” by “a close and dear friend of mine, one who knows members of my family, has worked with members of my family, has been a friend of our family’s for a number of years.”
The woman’s travel was “not a personal benefit to me, I don’t believe, under the House rules. A benefit to the person for whom he bought the ticket. He didn’t buy tickets for me. Did I direct him? I did.”