Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jackson Meteor also crashed Friday

We often speak in terms of someone having a "meteoric rise," but as events in Russia and Washington, D.C., clearly demonstrated Friday, "meteoric fall" would be much more appropriate.

The crashing and burning of the political careers of former Congressman Jesse Jackson and his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson, may not have been as sudden as we associate with a meteor. In fact, it’s been downright slow motion painful these past few months.

Jesse Jackson and his family
But the explosion on impact was certainly no less spectacular.

The accusations to which the congressman's lawyers say he plans to plead guilty are far worse than I had imagined, with misspent campaign funds to the tune of $750,000. You should have seen 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale's eyebrows shoot up when I quoted him that number Friday at Hyde Park Academy before President Barack Obama's speech.

Even a Chicago alderman knows that's not chump change.

But Beale, who is running for Jackson's congressional seat, would only say that he is praying for the couple, which is thoughtful of him but indicative of the deeper problem.

Some of Jackson's campaign money went toward extravagant purchases including a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch for himself, $5,150 in fur capes and parkas that his wife ordered for herself and $9,587 in furniture for their children.

Then there were bizarre purchases including $26,700 in Michael Jackson memorabilia, $10,105 in Bruce Lee memorabilia, and $11,130 on Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia.

And that's just the stuff federal prosecutors itemized to outline their case and to stake claim to stuff they plan to try to recover through forfeiture. They still haven't told us how the Jacksons managed to blow through most of the money, although I think we can deduce that it all falls under the category of Living Beyond Your Means.

 Coming soon to a U.S. Marshal's Service auction: The Jesse Jackson Collection, including a "Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen guitar" -- quite likely the one Van Halen used for the classic guitar solo in Jackson's "Beat It."

By the way, Jackson bought all the memorabilia from Antiquities of Nevada in Las Vegas. Too bad he never got to appear in an episode of Pawn Stars.

 Does anyone still think Jackson was just faking the mental illness diagnosis to put off his day of reckoning?

If so, please take note that impulsive spending sprees can be a symptom of bipolar disorder, which I don't mention by way of excusing his behavior, only to explain it.

 You don't get to plead not guilty by reason of insanity to this type of crime, which is why Jackson could end up spending the next four to five years in prison.

I spent quite a bit of time before the holidays combing through all of Jackson's campaign finance disclosure reports to try to figure out what he'd done wrong -- and came away frustrated because he hadn't left a lot of clues.

 The reason reporters couldn't find much amiss in the campaign reports is now clear. Jackson just flat-out falsified the reports on how he'd spent the money, with the assistance of an aide in Washington who prepared them -- and got to keep a little for herself in exchange for her participation in the scheme.

 One thing that was very noticeable to everybody about Jackson's campaign reports, however, were large totals of expenditures that he had been running through his American Express card.

 Jackson clearly operated under the company's motto: Don't Leave Home Without It.

 Prosecutors now say the Jacksons used campaign funds to improperly pay for $582,772 in personal expenses charged to the American Express Card.

 We may never know all the other personal expenses that the Jacksons disguised.

I spoke to one man Jackson had listed as being paid for doing some repair work on a campaign office.

When I asked him what services he performed for the congressman, he told me he was Jackson's "massage therapist" at the Russian baths on Division Street. He said he didn't know anything about any repair work.

"I'm a massage therapist. That's what I do," he said.

Following Obama's speech Friday, I took a quick drive over to the triangular-shaped building at 71st and Exchange where the Jacksons shared offices until their downfall.

The offices are closed, but the couple's pictures, superimposed on a spectacular backdrop of the Chicago skyline, are still smiling out from storefront windows onto the decaying South Shore neighborhood -- the community that these two talented politicians were supposed to help save.

The scene put me in mind of a title for a disaster movie. Call it the Jackson Meteor.

By Mark Brown

Source: The Chicago Sun-Times


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