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Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 30 months in prison today for using campaign funds to buy luxury goods. His wife also received a year in prison for filing false tax returns. Prosecutors called their joint crimes one of the worst abuses of campaign finance laws in recent memory. NPR's Jennifer Ludden was at the courthouse here in Washington, D.C.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: At one time, Jackson's political career was expected to rival that of his civil rights hero father. Today, with his father in the courtroom, the 48-year-old tearfully apologized to family, colleagues and constituents. Dabbing his eyes repeatedly with a Kleenex, Jackson said he simply failed to separate his personal life from his political one. He spoke to reporters briefly after the hearing.
JESSE JACKSON JR.: I still believe in the power of forgiveness. I believe in the power of redemption. Today I manned up and tried to accept responsibility for the errors of my ways. And I still believe in the resurrection.
LUDDEN: In addition to 30 months in prison, likely less with good behavior, Jackson will have three years of supervised release and must pay back the $750,000 he stole from his campaign. The sentence was less than what prosecutors sought. As they noted, Jackson used donors' money for thousands of purchases over seven years: from trips to Costco and the dry cleaners, to luxury mink coats, celebrity memorabilia, a Rolex watch. There were fake receipts, false documents, and campaign aides roped in to the cover-up. Outside the courthouse, Jackson's attorney, Reid Weingarten, said the sentence is fair.
REID WEINGARTEN: The system worked. A public official engaged in wrongdoing. Aggressive but fair prosecutors ferreted it out. The public official came to terms with his wrongdoing.
LUDDEN: In fact, government prosecutors gave Jackson credit for full cooperation. They said, amazingly, it was he who called them when he learned of the investigation and offered to help. Defense lawyers had tried to keep Jackson's wife, Sandi, out of prison, asking for probation only, so she could continue caring for their two young children. But the judge bristled at their argument, noting it was not the court's actions that were harming the children, but those of Sandi Jackson herself. Jackson will not be eligible for any reduction of her 12-month sentence.
Lawyers had also tried to blame some of Jesse Jackson's binge spending on his bipolar disorder, an argument the judge mostly rejected. The illness came out last summer when Jackson disappeared from public sight even as he was running for re-election. Outside the courthouse today, his father, Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., said it has been a painful journey.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON SR.: Jesse's been very sick. This time a year ago, I really thought we may have lost him. I think he's strong enough now to accept the challenges put before him by the judge.
LUDDEN: Because of their children, the judge is allowing the Jacksons to serve their prison time consecutively. The family requested that Jesse Jackson serve his first. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.
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