The Issue: Political corruption

By MARCELLA KREITER, United Press International  |  Aug. 18, 2013 at 4:39 AM
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Illinois has a long tradition of sending politicians to prison -- congressmen, governors, local politicians, Republicans, Democrats -- it's all good.

The latest ne'er-do-wells? Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the son of the civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate, and his wife Sandi, who served as a Chicago alderman while living in Washington.

Unlike former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who underwent two trials before he was convicted of exchanging favors and appointments for campaign cash, the Jacksons tearfully admitted their guilt and threw themselves on the mercy of the court, in this case U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation) in Washington.

The fates of Blagojevich and Jackson Jr. were intertwined for years. Both were seen and up-and-comers in Illinois politics and both eyed possible presidential runs in their futures. That is before another up-and-comer, then-Sen. Barack Obama, blindsided Hillary Clinton in 2008 and managed to win first the Democratic presidential nomination and then the White House.

Obama's meteoric political rise set in motion a series of events that toppled both Blagojevich and Jackson Jr.

Once Obama won the presidency, his Senate seat was in play. Jackson Jr. saw himself as Senate material; Blagojevich saw his ability to appoint an Obama successor as a "golden" opportunity to advance his own ambitions.

The only problem was that federal investigators had bugged Blagojevich's phones and were listening to his machinations.

Blagojevich's brother, Rob, who initially, as campaign manager, was ensnared in his brother's legal woes, was less than impressed with Jackson Jr.'s admission of culpability.

"I was very amused by comments that I've read that Jesse Jackson Jr. made after his sentencing that he manned up and took responsibility for stealing campaign funds," Rob Blagojevich said on WLS-AM, Chicago. "Well, my opinion is that it's time for him to man up and take responsibility for attempting to bribe my brother for the Senate seat through his emissaries."

The comment referred to an alleged offer of $1 million in campaign funds for Blagojevich if he would appoint Jackson Jr. to the Senate. The offer was made through a third party and Jackson Jr. said he never authorized it. In fact, at the time he goaded federal investigators to "bring it on" if they had any evidence against him.

As investigators looked into the allegations, however, they took a detour into Jackson Jr.'s campaign finances, discovering he misappropriated $750,000 that was spent on luxury items like vacations, a mink cape for Sandi and a Rolex watch for himself. There was also rock-and-roll memorabilia and an elk head, among other things.

The tearful admissions before Judge Jackson may have worked for the congressman. He was sentenced to 30 months, which he is to begin serving Nov. 1, and could be out in little more than two years. Sandi Jackson, who had sought probation, saying her children needed her, will serve a full year, the judge saying she should have thought of her children before she committed her crimes.

Blagojevich, who antagonized both the judge in his case and prosecutors, was sentenced for 14 years. His predecessor, George Ryan, got out of federal prison and was released from home confinement earlier this year after nearly six years for charges stemming from a drivers' license scam stemming from his tenure as secretary of state.

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