Jesse Jackson Jr Getty Images
By Fredreka Schouten and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
Washington-- Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was charged Friday with misusing hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars for personal use as a long-running criminal investigation into his conduct neared an end.
His wife, Sandra, was charged with filing false tax returns in a separate criminal indictment, released Friday by federal authorities.
Jackson and his attorneys have been in plea negotiations with the U.S. Justice Department, multiple media reports indicate. The Associated Press reported Friday that an attorney for Sandra Jackson said she had signed a plea deal with authorities.
Federal prosecutors often file a criminal information against defendants when a plea deal has been negotiated.
The charge against Jesse Jackson Jr. carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the Justice Department. His wife faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Jackson, 47, resigned from Congress in November. He sought treatment twice for bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic and had been on medical leave since June when he stepped aside. The namesake son of the civil rights leader, Jackson was heralded as a rising Democratic Party star when he was first elected in 1995.
The indictment details funds splurged on a children's furniture, a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch, $5,150 worth of fur capes and parkas and thousands more on memorabilia from martial arts master Bruce Lee, hats and guitars that once belonged to singer Michael Jackson -- along with memorabilia linked to slain civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
All told, prosecutors charge $750,000 in campaign funds were improperly used.
In a statement provided to The Chicago Tribune, Jackson said: "I offer no excuses for my conduct, and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made."
He apologized to his friends, family and supporters. "While my journey is not yet complete," he said, "it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right."
Jackson also had been the subject of a long-running House Ethics Committee investigation stemming from allegations that he offered to raise money for then-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich in exchange for appointment to the U.S. Senate to succeed Barack Obama after he was elected president in 2008. Jackson denied wrongdoing in that investigation.
More than a dozen candidates are running in the special election to succeed Jackson in the House. The Chicago-based district is heavily Democratic. The primary is Feb. 26.
Criminal prosecutions against current or former members of Congress for violating federal campaign-finance laws are "rare," said Kenneth Gross, a Washington lawyer and campaign-finance expert. "It should be rare," he said. "Most cases fall within the civil remedies because generally there's not a willful intent to violate the law."
In Jackson's case, "if the allegations are true, and the campaign money was spent on personal items, it's easier for the prosecution to make a case," he said. "It's hard to say, 'This expensive watch is a campaign expense.' "
Jackson's medical disorder, his resignation from Congress and cooperation with prosecutors "could be factors in mitigating" the amount of any prison time prosecutors seek, Gross said.