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Jay MacDonald

Jesse Jackson Jr.'s demise came by credit card

When fallen U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. cut short his political career, he did so with a credit card.

Jackson, the former Democratic representative from Illinois and eldest son of civil rights leader and Democratic presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court  Wednesday to misusing $750,000 in campaign contributions to fund a lavish lifestyle. Jackson's wife, Sandi, also pleaded guilty to filing false income tax returns from 2006 to 2011, the years in which Jackson was dipping into his campaign fund.

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Prosecutors have recommended a prison term of 46 to 57 months for Jackson, who is scheduled to be sentenced June 28.

"For years I lived off my campaign," a tearful Jackson told the court. And thanks to the convenience of credit cards, the living was indeed easy.

The more eye-catching charges among some 31,000 personal purchases Jackson made with campaign funds include:

  • A $43,000 Rolex watch;
  • A $30,000 renovation of his Washington, D.C., home;
  • Expenditures of $31,595 at Antiquities of Nevada to purchase memorabilia of Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson, Malcolm X, Jimi Hendrix and Jackson's own father;
  • $8,000 for two mounted elk heads;
  • $4,000 for a cruise; and
  • A five-day, $5,700 holistic health retreat on Martha's Vineyard.

But it wasn't all good times and reckless abandon. The Jacksons also shopped at Costco for basic necessities just like the rest of us, tapped Best Buy for a few flat-screen TVs and Blu-ray DVD players for their Georgetown digs just like the rest of us and stayed fit with a health club membership just like the rest of us.

OK, so maybe the rest of us wouldn't think to drop $466 on dinner for two at Mandarin Oriental's CityZen restaurant, or $10,000 on children's furniture, or $15,000 on appliances for the Chicago home.

But Jackson has admitted he's not like the rest of us; HE'S admitted he's a troubled man with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that can contribute to binge shopping and an irrational taste for the high life. And there's no easier way to indulge that champagne taste than with a wallet full of plastic.

When the walls started closing in, servicing Jackson's growing personal debt had become a herculean task. He was carrying a balance on his credit cards, spending lavishly on a debit card and running "family money" diverted from the campaign fund to avoid audit flags.

On one April day in 2011 alone, a check for $25,000 from a corporate account was deposited to pay down his credit card balance.

The lesson from this very public meltdown is twofold: If you have an addiction, the addition of easy credit can quickly make it worse. And if your goal is to avoid detection, there are few worse ways than to amass a paper trail of your descent into hell.

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