Blago’s brother: Jesse Jackson Jr. needs to ‘come clean’
BY NATASHA KORECKI Political Reporter August 11, 2013 9:55PM
Updated: September 13, 2013 6:14AM
Jesse Jackson Jr. has resigned his seat in Congress, pleaded guilty to federal charges, agreed to pay back what he stole from his campaign fund and on Wednesday he will learn how much time he will spend behind bars.
Still, for Robert Blagojevich, the former congressman has some serious unfinished business he’s yet to confront.
“I believe that Jesse Jackson Jr. needs to unburden himself and come clean on the Senate seat,” Robert Blagojevich told the Chicago Sun-Times, referring to the central issue in a massive federal case that ultimately put his brother in prison for more than a decade.
“He sent two emissaries to bribe me and my brother and I turned the bribes down,” Robert Blagojevich charged. Jackson was never charged with a crime tied to Blagojevich and has always maintained his innocence.
Robert Blagojevich said he saw a statement by the Rev. Jesse Jackson earlier this year where the father described how he was proud of his son for coming clean on the federal case before him.
“Now, I think it’s time for Jesse Jackson Jr. to do the same on the Senate seat. He still needs to be held accountable for actions that (put) a set of events in motion that hurt both me and my brother,” Robert Blagojevich said.
The former governor is serving a 14-year prison sentence after being convicted on 18 corruption charges, including shaking down campaign donors, lying to the FBI and attempting to sell Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Since prosecutors dropped charges against Robert Blagojevich in 2010 — who was initially charged after serving in a short stint as Rod Blagojevich’s campaign manager — the brother of the former governor has remained a steady voice calling for justice against Jesse Jackson Jr. That included talking with a congressional ethics committee about his interactions with Jackson donor Raghuveer Nayak. The Sun-Times has previously reported that Nayak told federal authorities in 2008 that Jackson directed him to offer the Blagojevich camp a $6 million bribe in exchange for the then-governor to name Jackson to the U.S. Senate seat. When Obama was elected president in 2008, Blagojevich was left with the sole power to appoint his replacement in the U.S. Senate.
Jackson Jr. has consistently denied ever making such a directive to anyone and said he had no knowledge of the actions of his donors.
Robert Blagojevich further said he questions a system where a congressman faces only four years after stealing $750,000 from his campaign fund.
As congressman, Jackson Jr. illegally used the money to buy a $43,000 Rolex watch, to take trips with his wife, to buy fur coats, pricey memorabilia, home furnishings and even household supplies at Costco. Prosecutors are asking that the ex-congressman serve four years in prison.
Sandi Jackson, a former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty for failing to report income of about $600,000. Prosecutors said in court papers “she did not earn the unreported income. She stole it.” They’ve asked a judge to sentence her to 18 months in prison.
“To me there’s something wrong with the system when a man steals $750,000 from his contributors and is only facing four years,” Robert Blagojevich said. “My brother, who never took anything and I believe had no intent to steal or auction off the Senate seat, is facing 14 years.
“I am only hoping the appellate court can objectively evaluate my brother’s appeal and render justice.”
Experts say that there’s such a disparity in sentences between the Jacksons and Blagojevich because their crimes not only pale in comparison, but so too does the way they handled the cases against them.
“It’s a combination of the benefit that you get when you don’t go to trial and it’s a different crime,” said former federal prosecutor Ron Safer.
Safer said Jackson Jr. was able to shave about two years from a possible term because he pleaded guilty instead of causing the government to spend resources on the trial. Blagojevich went to trial twice and thumbed his nose at prosecutors all along the way, castigating them in news conferences and on reality TV. Blagojevich then took the witnessed stand and the judge deemed he perjured himself. That adds to a defendant’s sentence under federal guidelines.
“The nature of the crime is different. Jackson took money from his campaign funds — that’s a bad crime and it’s a theft but there is a qualitative difference between a fraud or a theft and selling your office, using the highest office in the state for your own economic advantage — whether or not you are successful in that use,” Safer said.
Former federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer said among the factors in calculating federal prison terms is the amount of loss — even though Blagojevich was unsuccessful in his attempts to pocket any money. Blagojevich was convicted of 18 corruption counts, including attempting to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat.
“All that people need to understand when you’re dealing with fraud or public corruption — the loss is what drives the sentence,” Cramer said.
Cramer said although Jackson enriched himself, there was far more at stake under Blagojevich’s fraud.
“For Blagojevich it’s potential,” Cramer said. “The fact that he didn’t succeed, he doesn’t get a benefit for that.”
Cramer added that the sentencing judge, U.S. District Judge James Zagel, was severe with Blagojevich because he committed the crimes even as the former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was serving a 6½ year corruption sentence.
Defense lawyer Patrick Cotter had a different take, calling any comparison between Blagojevich and Jackson Jr.’s crimes “idiotic.”
“Blagojevich betrayed every voter in this state. Blagojevich made a mockery of Democracy. Whether Jesse Jackson took money that campaign contributors gave him and spent it on himself, it’s apples and oranges,” Cotter said. “You have to be some kind of Blagojevich die hard idiot,” to think Jackson deserves the same kind of time the former governor is serving.
Blagojevich “ made a mockery of democracy. Jesse Jackson cheated on his taxes,” Cotter said. “If it makes people feel any better, if [Jackson had] taken money and given it to an orphanage, he’d still be guilty of the same crime.”