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Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to serve 30 months in prison

Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., will serve 30 months in prison for stealing $750,000 from his campaign funds, a district court judge ruled Wednesday after Jackson tearfully apologized for his wrongdoing.

Jesse Jackson Jr.: "I erred"

Additionally, Jackson Jr. will have two years of supervised release and will have to serve 500 hours of community service. Jackson's wife Sandra Jackson, a former Chicago alderman, will serve one year in jail after pleading guilty to a tax charge related to the misuse of her husband's campaign funds. The Jacksons will have to pay back the $750,000 they stole but pay no other fines.

Before hearing his sentence, Jackson Jr. openly wept in court.

"I let a lot of people down," he said, blowing his nose and apologizing to the American people, his constituents and his family. He asked the judge to send him to prison in Alabama, "so I can be as far away from everyone."

As he stepped into his car after the sentencing hearing, Jackson Jr. said, "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."

His father, Rev. Jesse Jackson, also cried in court, wiping tears from his eyes, while his mother Jacqueline Jackson sat stoically in the court room.

The former congressman pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of conspiracy after he spent $750,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses like a gold-plated Rolex and fur capes for his wife.

jesse jackson
Courtroom sketch of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Aug. 14, 2013. Sketch by Ari Hennessy

Federal prosecutors wanted Jackson Jr. to spend four years in jail, while the former congressman's attorney, Reid Weingarten, asked the judge to give him an 18-month sentence. Jackson Jr. "was not Bernie Madoff," Weingarten argued, and deserved leniency.

A number of Jackson Jr.'s supporters wrote to the judge, asking her to show leniency for a variety of reasons, including his health problems. While under investigation last year, Jackson struggled with his mental health. He spent four weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota last summer in treatment for bipolar depression. Jackson Jr. filed information in court under seal pertaining to "personal and medical information" about the family.

The prosecutor said Wednesday that while bipolar disorder is serious, it did not cause Jackson to do what he did. "These were serious abuses," he said.

After the sentencing hearing, Weingarten called the sentence fair and expressed optimism about Jackson Jr.'s future. "We fully believe our client Jesse Jackson is going to have another important chapter in his life," he said.

He also said the case provided an opportunity to bring more attention to bipolar disorder.


Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. said that until his son started seeking treatment, "bipolar was never part of my lexicon."

While his son did not use his illness as an excuse for his illegal behavior, Jackson Sr. said he is "still recovering."

Federal guidelines suggested Jackson Jr. spend between 46 and 57 months in jail, though U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson (who is of no relation to Jesse and Sandra Jackson) could have sentenced Jackson to a maximum of five years in prison. Alternatively, she could have spared him of jail time all together and sentenced him to probation.

Federal prosecutors requested that Sandra Jackson spend 18 months in prison. She asked for probation, citing the impact incarceration would have on the Jacksons' children, who are nine and 13 years old. In his filing, Jackson Jr. requested that they serve staggered prison terms if both he and his wife were sentenced to time in prison.

The most riveting moments during the sentencing hearing came when the judge addressed Sandra Jackson's plea to stay with her children. The judge said it's always hard to send parents to prison, noting she once sent an undocumented immigrant back to El Salvador, leaving their kids behind. "I have to follow the law," she said.

Sandra Jackson will serve her time in a womens' low-security prison camp and must also pay $22,000 from her Chicago campaign. The judge said she could go to a prison near Washington, D.C., but her defense attorney Dan Webb said she'd prefer to go to a facility in Marianna, Fla. She will have one year of supervised release.

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