Prosecutor: Jacksons’ crimes weren’t ‘sophisticated’
WASHINGTON— The federal prosecutor whose office sent Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi, to prison said Wednesday their crimes weren’t “particularly sophisticated,” left a long paper trail and showed a sense of “greed and entitlement.”
Ronald Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said he’s motivated to pursue public corruption cases because people without a fraction of the same opportunities in life as elected officials face “pretty severe sanctions” when they run afoul of the law.
“(Fighting) corruption is a priority throughout the Justice Department,” he said. “It really strikes at the fabric of our democracy. And when people lose trust in our government, they lose trust in our entire system of government.”
Machen spoke to the Tribune after a dramatic, 41/2-hour sentencing hearing for the Jacksons in federal court.
Prosecutors had sought a four-year sentence for Jackson. He got 2 1/2 years. They had wanted Sandi Jackson sentenced to 18 months. She got 12.
Nonetheless, Machen found the sentences fair, saying he knew defense counsel would argue for much less and often a middle ground is chosen. He wasn’t in the courtroom, but got a stream of reports from his team, led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matt Graves and Michael Atkinson.
Typically, defendants can serve the last 10 percent of their terms in a halfway house or home detention, Machen said. He’s well aware that defendants fear prison.
“Once those doors shut, it’s an eerie feeling,” he said, “Now imagine being there 2 1/2 years. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend two days in prison, let alone 2 1/2 years. It does serve as a deterrent to others.”
Machen’s role is unique in the nation: As U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, he must prosecute both local and federal crimes.
He said he’s seen cases in which children lose their parents to wrongdoing — drug rings in which both parents get prison time, or domestic violence in which a man kills his wife and is sent away for years, thrusting children into the hands of protective services workers.
Children were an issue in Sandi Jackson’s case because she pushed for probation, citing the care of the couple’s 9-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.