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Jackson Jr. got softer fall than he might have

Aug 16, 2013 - The Chicago Tribune

"I grew up in a house with great expectations. Everything I do has a mark of excellence on it. I did what my community said do -- go to college, get a degree, come back to it, be a faithful servant and play by the rules. If I want to be a lawyer, that's not enough. I need to be a Supreme Court justice one day. If I want to be an elected official, that's not enough. One day, son, you may be president."

-- Jesse Jackson Jr., quoted in the Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1995.

The serial thieving allowed the prominent and well-to-do couple -- they earned nearly $350,000 in 2011 -- to spend some $750,000 looted from political funds.

"This was a knowing, organized joint misconduct that was repeated over many years," U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Wednesday in Washington.

Federal prosecutors wanted the felonious ex-congressman to do four years in prison. The judge instead chose 30 months. Jesse Jackson Jr. will surrender around Nov. 1 and, barring the unexpected, will be home before Christmas 2015, having served 85 percent of that sentence. His wife, Sandi, then will serve 12 months.

The light penance got us thinking about another ex-congressman, Rod Blagojevich. He and Jackson once were so close in the U.S. House that one colleague called them Salt and Pepper. Blagojevich's conviction on 18 corruption counts certainly eclipsed Jackson's plundering. But in dispatching the disgraced governor for 14 years -- he'll probably serve almost 12 -- U.S. District Judge James Zagel made what ought to be the resounding thunder at every public corruption sentencing:

"The harm is the erosion of public trust in government" because when a politician goes bad he damages a system that relies on the willing participation of its citizens. "You," Zagel said, looking at Blagojevich, "did that damage." As did Jesse Jr. and Sandi Jackson. They should feel great relief that they are not being more harshly punished for their gaudy greed.

The case similarly comes to an unsatisfying close for mental health advocates who have seen a possible teaching moment devolve into unanswered suspicions: Although his lawyer said Wednesday that Jackson "suffers from a very, very serious mental health disease," a prosecutor countered that because Jackson pleaded guilty rather than stand trial, there is no expert testimony, or evidence discovery process, or independent examination of the defendant. One of Jackson's prime explanations for his crime will not be litigated.

We wish the Jacksons constructive lives after they do their time. But looking back to those great expectations of 1995, the year he would win his House seat after another congressman's criminal conviction, the rest of us are left to marvel at little but the plunge:

The potential Supreme Court justice, or maybe president, instead is a convict and, soon enough, a federal prisoner.

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