Update: February 20, 2013, 6:03 PM
The elk heads did him in.
On the same day that former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) and his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the misuse of around $750,000 in campaign funds, prosecutors filed court papers offering more details about what the couple spent all that money on.
And from the looks of it, a couple of elk heads led to the downfall of the Illinois lawmaker who was once seen as a rising political star.
Not that the elk heads cost anywhere near $750,000. Most of that grand total — $583,000 or so — was reached, according to court documents, through approximately 3,100 separate purchases the Jacksons made with campaign credit cards between August 2005 and April 2012. In that time, the Jacksons spent $60,857 in campaign funds at restaurants, nightclubs, and lounges; $31,700 on airfare; $16,059 on sports clubs; $17,163 on purchases at tobacco shops; $5,814 on alcohol; $14,513 on dry cleaning; $8,046 on grocery store purchases; and $6,095 at drug stores.
The purchases ranged in amounts, from over $10,000 spent at Best Buy in November 2007 on several flat-screen TVs, Blu-Ray DVD players, and DVDs to $70 at a Build-a-Bear store in December 2008 on stuffed animals and accessories. The Jacksons used money to the Congressman’s campaign to buy Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X memorabilia, jewelry, children’s furniture, a washer and dryer, underwear, video games, toilet paper, fur capes, and, in one instance, a five-day health retreat for one of Sandi Jackson’s relatives at Martha’s Vineyard Holistic Retreat in Vineyard Haven, Mass.
But back to the elk heads.
In March 2011, Jackson Jr. traded emails with a Montana taxidermist about a pair of mounted elk heads. Over the next several weeks, a person identified in court papers only as Person A received money with which to purchase the elk heads for Jackson Jr. (Person A has been identified by Crain’s Chicago Business as Jackson’s onetime campaign treasurer Terri Harris, who now goes by the name of Terri Jones.) Jackson Jr. gave Person A $3,000 in cash, money he has said was given to him by family members. Another $4,000 was given to Person A from Jackson’s campaign, in two checks whose memos indicated they were payments “for Data Reconciliation” and “for Data Entry & Cleanup.” Person A later sent two checks to the taxidermist in Montana, who shipped the elk heads in April to Jackson’s Congressional office.
Fast forward to July 2012. A month earlier, Jackson had reportedly collapsed at his home in Washington D.C., and subsequently took a medical leave of absence from Congress. (After an initial news blackout, it was revealed that Jackson was receiving treatment for bipolar disorder.) On July 23, Person A contacted the taxidermist again, asking if the taxidermist knew anyone who would want to buy the elk heads, or, alternatively, someone who could build crates in which the heads could be stored. A month later, Person A got a call from an undercover FBI employee posing as an interior designer interested in buying the heads.
Over the final week of August 2012, Person A and the undercover FBI employee negotiated the sale of the heads. They settled on a price of $5,300, which Person A told the FBI employee to wire straight to one of Jackson’s personal accounts. According to the court documents, it was Sandi Jackson who, knowing the elk heads had been purchased with campaign funds, had them moved from Washington D.C. to Chicago, and then directed Person A to sell the elk heads for less than the original purchase price, and to have the money wired to Jackson Jr.’s account.
Jackson Jr. will be sentenced June 28. He faces up to five years in prison.
Update: This post has been updated to clarify that the approximately 3,100 credit card purchases made by the Jacksons totaled roughly $583,000.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com