MARK BROWN: Jackson laundered at least $49,000 through others, but where did he get that cash?
BY MARK BROWN February 20, 2013 11:04PM
Former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. Jackson and his wife were to appear in federal court to answer criminal charges that they engaged in an alleged scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:48AM
Where did Jesse Jackson Jr. get all the cash?
That’s the question still nagging at me after a remarkable day in our nation’s capital that saw both the former congressman and his wife, former 7th Ward Ald. Sandi Jackson, plead guilty to corruption charges that could send both of them to federal prison.
While we’ve heard plenty in the past week about the $750,000 in campaign funds the Jacksons converted to personal use, it wasn’t until Wednesday that we learned the congressman was also the beneficiary of at least another $49,000 in suspicious cash.
In his plea agreement, prosecutors detailed how Jackson laundered that cash through other individuals, including two congressional staffers, to pay his bills and purchase merchandise for him.
But authorities left murky the question of where Jackson got the cash in the first place.
All it says in the plea agreement is: “Defendant has represented that this cash was given to him by family members.”
When they word it like that, using the term “represented” instead of just stating it as fact, it means they don’t necessarily believe him, but apparently couldn’t prove otherwise.
And with Jackson fessing up and pleading guilty to the campaign finance abuses, there wouldn’t have been any need to push the matter further.
But I find it particularly troubling. Illicit cash is always the great unknown in the political system and the most potent corrupting influence.
For Jackson to have gotten his hands on that much “walking around money,” as unreported cash is often known in politics, it raises more troubling questions about the opportunities that are out there for other lawmakers as well.
At his press conference detailing the case against the Jacksons, Ronald Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, credited the former congressman for taking responsibility for his crimes once he learned he was under investigation.
“He came in early, he told the truth, and he saved the taxpayers the cost of a trial,” Machen said.
But did Jackson tell the whole truth?
All the schemes involving the cash followed a similar pattern.
Person A, a staffer in Jackson’s Washington office who also handled his campaign fund reports, made five cash deposits totaling $19,405 into her personal bank account in 2011.
The staffer, identified by the Chicago Sun-Times through public records as Terri Jones, received the cash for each of these deposits from Jackson, according to his plea agreement.
Jones then used the money at the congressman’s direction to write checks to pay down the Jacksons’ personal credit card balances and to pay a Montana taxidermist for a pair of mounted elk heads.
Person C, a staffer in Jackson’s Chicago office, made three cash deposits totaling $14,600 into his personal checking account between 2009 and 2010. In each case, the staffer received the cash for the deposits from Jackson.
Jackson directed the staffer to use portions of the money to make a payment on the congressman’s personal credit card, to a Las Vegas memorabilia store to buy a guitar used by Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen and to pay for a private school in Chicago.
Person D, identified only as the president and CEO of an Illinois-based company, made another five cash deposits in 2009, each involving cash received from Jackson. Again, the money was used to pay down the Jacksons’ personal credit cards.
In each case, the only explanation offered as to the source of the cash is the aforementioned: “Defendant has represented this cash was given to him by family members.”
It’s possible, I suppose. The congressman’s father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, seems to live pretty well, and the congressman’s brothers are considered successful businessmen.
But still, if you’re getting money from your family to help pay your bills, why would you sneak around and launder it through somebody else to hide the source? And why would your family give you that much cash instead of writing a check? Plus, $49,000 is a lot of cash.
It doesn’t really add up, and I’m not buying it.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington declined to comment on my inquiry.
In his remarks to reporters, though, Machen noted that Wednesday’s guilty plea was Jackson’s “first step toward redemption.”
Explaining where he really got the cash would be a nice second step.