Jesse Jackson Jr. pleads guilty to conspiracy

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy today in a U.S. District Court, after allegedly misusing hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars on personal expenses like a gold-plated Rolex and fur capes for his wife.

"I am guilty, your honor," Jackson said to Judge Robert Wilkins. In a subdued but clear voice, Jackson told the judge that he accepts responsibility for his actions.

Federal prosecutors formally charged Jackson on Friday for misusing $750,000 in campaign funds between August 2005 and July 2012. The money was allegedly spent on items including $5,000 football signed by U.S. presidents, $9,600 worth of furniture and a $43,000 gold-plated men's Rolex watch. The charges say $5,150 was spent to ship fur capes and parkas from Beverly Hills, Calif., and that thousands of dollars in campaign funds were also spent on memorabilia of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix.

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum statutory penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties. The former Illinois lawmaker could possibly serve between 46 and 57 months in prison -- that is the range of time the defense and government prosecutors agreed to. However, the judge noted he is not bound by that. Sentencing is June 28.

"There is reason for optimism," Jackson's attorney Reid Weingarten said following today's hearing. "A man that talented, a man that devoted to public service... who has done so much for many... will and should get credit for it."

As part of the plea agreement, the government reportedly demanded that Jackson give up his congressional seat -- which he did in November, just a little more than two weeks after easily winning re-election.

While under investigation last year, Jackson also struggled with his mental health. He spent four weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota over the summer in treatment for bipolar depression. In spite of his problems, Jackson last year won re-election in Illinois' second district, which he had represented since 1995, with 63 percent of the vote.

"It turns out that Jesse has serious health issues," Weingarten said. "Those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That's not an excuse, that's just a fact."

He added, however, that Jackson has received "great treatment."

"I think he's gotten his arms around his problem," he said. "Time will tell, but we are optimistic."

During the nearly hour-long hearing, Jackson was surrounded by family members, including his mother and father, Reverend Jesse Jackson, who sat in the first row.

Observers of the hearing said the most painful part to watch was Jackson acknowledging that he gives up his right to vote.

After the hearing Jackson said, "Tell the people back in Chicago sorry that I let them down."

Jackson's wife, former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, has been separately charged with one count of filing false income tax returns. Sandi Jackson has reached an agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office to plead guilty to one count of tax fraud, her attorneys said Friday.

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