By Lacey Johnson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., once one of the most promising black politicians in the United States, was sentenced on Wednesday to 2-1/2 years in prison for misuse of campaign funds.
Jackson, a former Democratic representative and the son of civil rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., apologized before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced him on Wednesday.
Jackson, 48, had pleaded guilty in February to misusing about $750,000 in campaign funds on luxuries such as fur capes, celebrity memorabilia, mounted elk heads and a Rolex watch.
"I misled the American people," Jackson said at the hearing. "I also want to apologize to my dad and my mother," Jackson said, wiping away tears. "I take responsibility for my actions and I'm very sorry for what I have done," he said.
His wife, Sandi, a former Chicago city council member, was sentenced to one year for falsifying tax returns that failed to report the campaign money as income. The couple has two children.
The judge ordered Jackson Jr. to report to prison on or after November 1 and for Sandi Jackson to report to prison 30 days after he is released to reduce the impact on the children.
"I stand before you today asking for mercy," Sandi Jackson said, adding that "my heart breaks every day with the pain it has caused my babies."
Jackson Jr. asked on Monday that the judge recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that he serve his time at a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, because it would allow him to be nearer to his wife and children who live in Washington D.C. The judge said Wednesday she would make that recommendation.
Jackson Jr. served in Congress from 1995 until he resigned after re-election last year, citing health reasons.
He disappeared from public view in the summer of 2012 and speculation swirled for weeks about his condition. At first Jackson Jr. said he was being treated for exhaustion, and his doctor said in July 2012 said he was being treated for a "mood disorder."
He eventually was treated for at least six weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for bipolar disorder.
Jackson Jr. also was sentenced to three years supervised release and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. Sandi Jackson was given 12 months supervised release and 200 hours of community service.
Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of four years for the ex-congressman and 18 months for Sandi Jackson.
U.S. prosecutors asked in June that two of the Jacksons' houses, in Washington and Chicago, be subject to forfeiture, along with a bank account holding $80,000, as part of a $750,000 judgment.
Prosecutors asked in a filing this month that the forfeiture motion be delayed until October 25 since Jackson has said he is trying to pay off the judgment.
'HALL OF SHAME' CONTENDER?
The Reverend Jackson told reporters afterward that it has been an "extraordinarily difficult" time for the family.
"Jesse's been very sick," Reverend Jackson said. "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."
Dozens of letters to the judge were filed in the court docket before the sentencing. They included ones from Jackson Sr., ordinary people who had met the congressman only once and Democratic Representative Marica Fudge, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, asking for clemency.
Most letter writers expressed outrage at the couple's behavior and asked for the maximum punishment as a way to combat persistent corruption in Illinois and in Chicago's Cook County.
"Cook County is likely the most corrupt county in the most corrupt state and the self-serving greed displayed by Mr. Jackson over several years in office qualifies him for the Illinois Hall of Shame," Cook County resident Kenneth Kunka wrote.
(Reporting by Lacey Johnson and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Greg McCune, Andrew Hay, Kevin Gray and Cynthia Osterman)