Jesse Jackson Jr. signs plea deal; feds still investigating last week
BY NATASHA KORECKI, MICHAEL SNEED AND DAN MIHALOPOULOS Staff Reporters
Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, sources say.
Jesse Jackson Jr. has signed an agreement to plead guilty to federal corruption charges and acknowledge misuse of his campaign fund, sources said.
The former 17-year South Shore Democratic congressman had told associates that he tried “protecting” his wife during negotiations leading up to the plea agreement, but “they wouldn’t let him,” the source said.
Jackson’s wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), is also under investigation.
Federal agents from Washington, D.C., visited Chicago as recently as last week interviewing witnesses about the former congressman, a source with direct knowledge of the effort told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“They’re still investigating. They’re questioning people to corroborate,” Jackson’s statements to federal authorities, said the source.
The feds were questioning witnesses about activity in Jackson’s congressional campaign fund including for transactions specifically in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the source said.
Earlier this week, the Sun-Times reported that Sandi Jackson is now the target of a separate investigation by federal officials.
Two sources with knowledge of that probe say that authorities believe the former 7th Ward alderman had direct knowledge of alleged misuse of campaign money.
Jesse Jackson Jr. has allegedly misspent a large amount of campaign funds, including buying a $40,000 Rolex watch.
Earlier this week, Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed quoted a source saying “significant jail time is now definitely a part of the deal” the feds offered him.
But it’s hard to estimate the extent of the punishment Jesse Jackson Jr. faces without yet knowing the amount of campaign funds he allegedly misspent, defense lawyers and experts in campaign-finance law said Friday.
“The amount involved will be the biggest factor in his penalty, mitigated by his health condition and by his resignation from Congress,” said Kenneth Gross, a former associate general counsel for the Federal Election Commission who is now in private practice in Washington.
When he resigned from Congress in November, Jackson cited his battle with a bi-polar disorder and depression and acknowledged the federal investigation.
Heather Winslow, a former federal defender who works as a private defense attorney here, said Jackson is benefitting from working out a plea deal behind closed doors before being charged formally, in open court.
If the allegations against him were public, she said, then there might be more public pressure on prosecutors to not show leniency with the former congressman.
Still, she predicted he would eventually spend “somewhere in the realm of 30-40 months” behind bars.
It’s likely that the U.S. attorney’s office and Jackson’s lawyers have engaged in “charge bargaining,” said Jeffrey Steinback, a defense lawyer who specializes negotiating plea deals in federal criminal cases.
“There’s probably an agreement that’s structured so he admits to a count whose maximum sentence is far lower than the other counts he otherwise could have been convicted of,” Steinback said.
But it’s not yet clear, Steinback said, whether the agreement leaves Jackson’s sentence entirely to the court. The agreement could “specify an agreed-upon range” of his potential prison term, he said.
Steinback added that Jackson’s deal could require him to repay the amount of money that was misspent.
The ongoing investigation continues to stun those close to Jackson, who was a target of a different federal probe back in 2008 and 2009, involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempted sale of President Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. The Sun-Times first reported in 2010 that a fund-raiser with long ties to the Jackson family told federal authorities that Jackson in October of 2008 had directed him to approach the Blagojevich camp with a $6 million offer for the Senate seat.
However, that fund-raiser, Raghuveer Nayak, alleged the conversation was private. Nayak also told authorities that at Jackson’s behest, he secretly paid for airline trips for a Jackson female friend to fly from Washington to Chicago.
Nayak himself is now under indictment for conduct involving surgical centers he owns in Illinois and Indiana.