Jackson, wife expected to plead guilty to federal charges today

Word of the plea agreement between former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr, his wife, and federal investigators began to leak out last week.  Today the couple will appear in court to enter guilty pleas on charges of corruption, bringing to an end yet another cycle of Chicago Machine politics and perhaps an end to the family’s national political influence:

Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife are to appear in federal court to answer criminal charges that they engaged in an alleged scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items.

Both the former Illinois congressman and his wife, Sandra, have agreed to plead guilty in deals with federal prosecutors. Jackson is charged with conspiracy and his wife with one count of filing false joint federal income tax returns for the years 2006 through 2011 that knowingly understated the income the couple received.

The Jacksons are appearing separately Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins — with the former congressman appearing in the morning and his wife in the afternoon.

Rumors had swirled about whether the two would get prison sentences or somehow escape with probation.  At least at the moment, the attorneys for the wife don’t sound optimistic about Sandra Jackson retaining her freedom:

The conspiracy charge against the former congressman carries a maximum statutory penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and other penalties. The charge against Sandra Jackson carries a maximum of three years in prison. However, one of her lawyers, Tom Kirsch, says the plea agreement “does not contemplate a sentence of that length.” Sandra Jackson was a Chicago alderman before she resigned last month during the federal investigation.

That sounds as if the agreement includes at least some prison time for Sandra.  If that’s the case, expect a similar if not stiffer sentence for Jesse Jackson Jr.  As a Congressman, he was the more central figure in the FBI probe, and his responsibility to the public even greater.  Besides, as CBS reported this morning, federal prosecutors only charged the former Congressman with conspiracy, which means that they will want extra time in the sentencing:

It’s a rather dramatic fall for the Jacksons, whose patriarch Jesse Sr once ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.  It’s also another reminder of the political corruption in the nation’s third-largest city, and a time for the rest of the nation to wonder when Illinois plans to do anything more to clean it up — or whether federal investigators will continue to make it a career position.