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 illegally spending $750,000 in campaign money on everything from cigars to mounted elk heads and a gold watch, a prison official said Tuesday.
Jackson, 48, was in custody Tuesday morning as Inmate No. 32451-016, said Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke. He declined to say exactly when the son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson, reported.
Court documents were never clear about when Jackson must report. In her sentencing order this year, Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington said only that he would have “to surrender … no earlier than Nov. 1.”
By not announcing in advance when he’d report, Jackson avoided the crush of media that swirled around other prison-bound Illinois politicians. Helicopters hovered above and cars filled with journalists trailed ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich when he reported to a Colorado prison last year to serve a 14-year term for corruption.
Jackson reported to Butner Correctional Center, located in a heavily wooded area 30 miles north of Raleigh, N.C. His fellow inmates include Wall Street fraudster Bernie Madoff and ex-Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge, convicted of lying about police torture of suspects, according to the Bureau of Prisons. The sprawling complex includes high- and low-level security sections, and it’s unclear if Jackson will have contact with Madoff and Burge.
The former legislator with a fondness for luxury goods will be assigned a cell — possibly sharing it with other convicts. Jackson also must perform a menial job working for less than a dollar an hour; mopping floors or other maintenance duties are typically assigned to new inmates, according to a Butner orientation guide.
The life of the once-rising star of Illinois Democratic politics will be highly regimented. That includes a 6 a.m. wakeup call each day and frequent head counts.
Jackson’s wife, Sandi, was given a yearlong sentence for filing false tax returns. In a concession to their two school-age children, the judge allowed the Jacksons to stagger their sentences.
The couple chose not to go to trial, and both entered guilty pleas early this year.
As part of his plea, Jesse Jackson acknowledged spending his donors’ money on more than 3,000 personal items, including $60,857 at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges; $43,350 for a gold-plated men’s Rolex watch; and around $5,300 for mounted elk heads.
Jackson asked to serve his time in Alabama, while his wife’s attorney said she’d prefer a Florida prison. But the U.S. Bureau of Prisons made the final decision.
A joint filing last week from defense lawyers and prosecutors indicated Jesse 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 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 canceled 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.
Jesse Jackson 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.