WASHINGTON - Former U.S. congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., the son of a civil rights leader and a one-time rising star in Democratic politics, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to misusing about $750,000 in campaign money.
Jackson, 47, of Chicago, wept quietly as he entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Washington, where Judge Robert Wilkins accepted the plea.
“Guilty, your honor. I misled the American people,” Jackson said after the judge asked his plea.
Jackson, who dropped out of public view last year and underwent treatment for bipolar disorder, could be sentenced to five years - the maximum allowed by law - under an agreement with prosecutors.
Wilkins scheduled sentencing for June 28.
Jackson’s father, Jesse Jackson Sr., sat in the front row of a courtroom filled with family, friends and reporters during the hour-long hearing on Wednesday.
The former congressman’s wife, Sandi, is expected to appear at a separate hearing at 2:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) and plead guilty to filing false tax returns that did not report the campaign money as income. She is a former member of the Chicago City Council.
Born with a name that would be known across the United States because of his father’s activism and campaigns for president, Jesse Jackson Jr. was once considered among the nation’s most promising black politicians.
He ran for Congress and won at age 30, serving from 1995 until resigning on Nov. 21, citing health reasons and acknowledging he was under investigation by the FBI.
At the hearing, he expressed regret for living off his political campaign’s money for years. “I fully understand the consequences of my actions,” he said.
Jackson was accused of shipping a $43,350 men’s Rolex watch purchased with campaign funds to his Washington address. He also shipped fur capes and parkas purchased with $5,150 in campaign funds to the Beverly Hills home of an unnamed person, the documents said.
Jackson disappeared from public view last summer and speculation swirled for weeks about his condition. He said in late June he had taken a leave of absence two weeks earlier for treatment of what was described as exhaustion.
He issued a statement on July 5 saying his health problems were more serious and he needed extended in-patient treatment for unspecified “physical and emotional ailments.”
On July 11, his physician said the congressman was receiving intensive care for a “mood disorder” and was expected to make a full recovery. The Mayo Clinic announced on July 27 that Jackson had been admitted.
Jackson was treated for at least six weeks at Mayo for bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic depression. It is marked by highs and lows of mood, and can be treated by medication and psychological counseling.