WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors urged today that former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. be sent to prison for four years and his wife, Sandi Jackson, be incarcerated for 18 months.
In making the recommendation, prosecutors suggested the prison terms could be structured so that the Jacksons, who have two children ages 9 and 13, are not behind bars at the same time.
Prosecutors asked that Sandi Jackson be imprisoned first. If she is given an 18-month sentence and gets credit for satisfactory behavior while behind bars, they said, “she will be back with her children, on home confinement, a little more than a year after the date of her surrender.”
Jackson Jr. would serve his sentence next, under their scenario.
Prosecutors announced their view of the appropriate punishment in a memorandum that was sent to the judge who will sentence the Jacksons. The sentencing will take place on July 3, not July 1, according to a change announced by the court today.
The government also recommended that Jackson Jr. pay $750,000 in restitution to his campaign, that he pay an additional $750,000 forfeiture and that he be placed on supervised release for three years after leaving prison.
“A review of his history and characteristics shows the defendant chose to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars despite having advantages in life and financial resources that few possess and that most can only dream of obtaining,” prosecutors wrote in their 45-page memorandum on Jackson Jr.
In a separate filing, prosecutors urged that Sandi Jackson be sentenced to prison for 18 months, pay more than $168,000 in restitution and be placed on supervised release for an additional year.
Sandi Jackson’s counsel, in a document late Friday, made an impassioned plea that she be given probation. The document traced her roots from inner-city Akron, Ohio, to college years to her “tragic road to motherhood.”
She suffered six “heartbreaking” miscarriages, giving birth in 1998, during her fifth month of pregnancy, to a son, Lee Louis Jackson, who died within a day. “Sandi and Jesse were able to dress him and hold him and take photos of him in their arms,” the counsel wrote. “But he passed away within a day. Sandi’s pain was immeasurable.”
Her two successful pregnancies were difficult, requiring extensive bed rest, the counsel wrote, and she became a devoted mother and dutiful alderman in Chicago’s 7th Ward.
Probation, they said, “will not restore Mrs. Jackson to her pre-case professional stature, alleviate the financial burden she now faces, or remove the suffering that her children have already undergone and will continue to undergo in the weeks and months ahead. It will, however, allow Mrs. Jackson to remain present to her children and to devote herself to healing their pain and loss.”
Letters pleading for leniency for her — totaling more than 200 pages—were submitted. One section of her court papers, “Challenges Posed By Jesse Jr.’s Mental Illness,” was redacted.
Attorneys for Jackson Jr. made a lengthy filing of their own today, saying he deserved a lighter sentence in part because his “severe depression and bipolar disorder require intense ongoing treatment.” A long prison term, they said, would be “devastating” on his children.
“His public fall from grace has already made an example of him, warning other politicians and elected officials of the dangers of personal use of campaign funds.”.
Portions of the filing were redacted, including an entire section labeled “Health Issues.”
In the filing, the ex-congressman’s lawyers said: “Due to his and his wife’s resignations from public office, Mr. Jackson’s family has lost its only sources of income. The harsh spotlight of the media that has followed him at every step of the investigation, his plea and his sentencing, has already punished Mr. Jackson and his family immeasurably.”
Jackson Jr.’s memorandum includes dozens of letters from his supporters. It asks the judge to give a shorter sentencing than called for under sentencing guidelines, which specify a term between 46 and 57 months.
Jackson Jr., 48, pleaded guilty to a spending binge that involved pilfering about $750,000 from his campaign treasury and using the money for a Rolex watch, furs, vacations, celebrity memorabilia and other items.
Sandi Jackson, 49, pleaded guilty in a related case for failing to report about $600,000 of income on tax returns to the IRS for tax years 2005 through 2011.
The Jacksons, Democrats from Chicago’s South Side, resigned from public office leading up to their guilty pleas.
Their cases are before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is no relation, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Jackson Jr., the son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1995 and resigned last November. About a year ago, he began a mysterious leave of absence from Congress for what was later revealed to be bipolar disorder.
He never returned to the Congress after taking the leave, resigning Nov. 21 after winning re-election earlier that month. She was elected to Chicago’s City Council in 2007 and resigned in January.
When the Jacksons cut their plea deals, the appropriate punishment under sentencing guidelines was set out. His crimes called for a term of 46 to 57 months in prison; hers for one to two years. Judges are not bound by the guidelines, however.
Sandi Jackson’s relatives, in writing to the judge, have urged that she be placed on probation.
Federal prisoners who behave while behind bars are eligible for a reduction in their sentences by up to 54 days a year, according to Ed Ross, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons. That’s just short of eight weeks a year.
The so-called “good conduct” reduction accrues automatically, but can be forfeited if an inmate commits a serious infraction, Ross said. The provision applies only to inmates given a sentence of more than 12 months in prison.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. declined to comment on prosecutors' request of four years in prison, saying he would not discuss anything related to the "judicial process" involving his son.
Asked how his son was doing, Jackson Sr. replied: "His health is recovering. He's taking his medicine with discipline, and is very focused. For him to get well is the first priority. I have no comment about the judicial process. We will wait for an outcome."
In a letter filed with his son’s memorandum, Rev. Jackson asked that his son be placed on probation, citing the son’s numerous good works and asking for mercy.
“I am not sure at what point Jesse Jr. began to foil his own ambitions,” the father said, citing his son’s weight-loss surgery, depression and bipolar disorder. Now he has undergone substantial medical treatment and the father called himself anxious to see him continue “his service and work as he recovers.”
“Jesse Jr. has never run afoul of the law except to challenge the unjust system of apartheid in South Africa,” he added.
Tribune reporter Bill Ruthhart contributed.