Two documents filed Friday by federal prosecutors in Washington paint a sad picture of an erstwhile political power couple. Prosecutors filed what is called an “Information,” which lays out the government’s case against Sandra Jackson and former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.
Normally, federal prosecutors go to a grand jury and obtain an indictment against defendants. The alternative — filing an Information — indicates that the defendants have waived their right to a grand-jury proceeding. Typically, that is the preliminary step in a negotiated plea agreement. An Information outlines the criminal violations to which defendants have agreed to plead guilty in exchange for prosecutors not bringing all of the charges against them that they could have presented to a grand jury.
The ten-page Information concerning Jackson alleges that, with the help of his wife (who is listed as Co-Conspirator 1), he fraudulently obtained money and filed false campaign expenditure reports with the Federal Election Commission and the House of Representatives. There were direct expenditures from the campaign for personal expenses of $57,792.83 and the use of campaign credit cards for another $582,772.58. Another $112,150.39 in campaign funds were channeled to Co-Conspirator 1 and the assistant treasurer of his campaign for “transactions that personally benefitted” both Jackson and his wife.
The Information charges Jackson with one count of conspiracy, making false statements, and engaging in mail and wire fraud because he allegedly used “private and commercial interstate carriers” and “interstate wire communications” for the delivery of his illegal purchases. Many of those peculiar purchases have been detailed in news accounts and are listed in the Information. They allegedly include a gold-plated men’s Rolex; children’s furniture; fur capes and parkas; memorabilia from Bruce Lee, Martin Luther King, Jr., Michael Jackson (including a fedora), Eddie Van Halen, Malcolm X, and Jimi Hendrix; and a football signed by American presidents.
The government not only seeks a “money judgment in the amount of $750,000” against Jackson, but the forfeiture of all of the memorabilia and furs. To this former Federal Election Commissioner, what is noticeably absent from the Information is a charge of a violation of 2 U.S.C. §439a, which is the federal campaign-finance law that prohibits the conversion of campaign funds to personal use.
Jackson’s wife, Co-Conspirator 1, has a much shorter two-page Information. She is charged with one count of filing false joint tax returns from 2006 to 2011. Her role as Co-Conspirator 1 is not mentioned, nor is she charged with any campaign-finance violations. The campaign paid her $5,000 a month as a political consultant, and there is no information on whether she did any real work for the campaign. Depending on the facts, prosecutors could have charged her with a separate count for each year that a false tax return was filed. The single count in the Information seems to be the result of a negotiated plea.
Even with the reduced counts, the crimes that Sandra and Jesse Jackson are charged with are quite serious. They could be sentenced to up to three and five years, respectively. Had they refused to plead guilty and gone to trial, they might well have been charged with many more criminal violations of federal law.