CHICAGO » Former Illinois U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has entered a North Carolina federal prison at least several days early to begin serving a 2 1/2-year prison term for misusing campaign funds, a prison official said today.
The 48-year-old Chicago Democrat was in federal custody as of this morning as Inmate No. 32451-016, according to Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke. He declined to offer details, including exactly when the son of civil rights leader, The Rev. Jesse Jackson, had initially shown up at the prison.
Court documents were never clear about when Jackson must report. In her sentencing order written earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington said only that he would have "to surrender for service of sentence no earlier than Nov. 1, 2013."
But by not announcing in advance when he’d report, Jackson avoided the crush of media that swirled around other prison-bound Illinois politicians, including ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Helicopters hovered above and cars filled with journalists trailed Blagojevich as he reported to a Colorado prison last year to serve a 14-year term for corruption.
Jackson, who pleaded guilty in February to conspiring to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on furs, cigars, celebrity memorability and other personal items, reported to Butner Correctional Center near Raleigh, N.C., said Ed Ross, another prison spokesman.
Federal prison guidelines indicate the former legislator with a fondness for luxury will be assigned a cell — possibly sharing a room with other convicts — and a menial job working for less than a dollar an hour.
Jackson’s wife, Sandi, was given a yearlong sentence for filing false tax returns. In a concession to their two school-aged children, the judge allowed the Jacksons to stagger their sentences.
Jackson used campaign money to buy a $43,350 gold-plated, men’s Rolex watch and $9,587.64 on children’s furniture, according to court papers filed in the case. His wife spent $5,150 on fur capes and parkas, according to court documents.
Jackson asked to serve his time in Alabama, while his wife’s attorney said she’d prefer a Florida prison. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons decided where Jackson is serving his term.
Jackson, who was once seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party in Illinois, represented his Chicago-area constituents in the House from 1995 until he resigned last November. He stepped down following months of speculation about his health and legal problems.
A joint filing last week from defense lawyers and prosecutors indicated Jackson plans to sell his home in Washington, D.C., to help pay a $750,000 forfeiture judgment. It also said the cash-strapped Jackson would need more time to come up with money to pay the judgment.
One high-profile bid in which Jesse Jackson tried to raise money has already fallen through. A September online auction organized by the U.S. Marshals Service to sell part of his celebrity memorabilia collection was cancelled after a few days when someone questioned the authenticity of a guitar purportedly signed by Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen. The ex-congressman had paid $4,000 in campaign funds for it.