Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Hey, Jesse Jackson, Jr.—Where’s That $43,350 Rolex?

Wherever it is, one thing’s for sure—JJJ won’t be wearing it in prison. Another open question is whether the money from its sale can help repay his duped donors.

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune 

Jesse Jackson, Jr., departs his sentencing hearing (not wearing a $43,350 Rolex bought with campaign funds). 

The 12-page plea offer/agreement between U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Manchen, Jr., and Jesse Jackson, Jr., contains a section headed “Forfeitures.” It stipulates that Jackson “…shall forfeit to the United States any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense to which he is pleading guilty.”

It contains a list of 24 items—a tiny fraction of the loot the former congressman and soon-to-be prison inmate illegally purchased with campaign funds.

“The property subject to Forfeiture includes a money judgment in the amount of $750,000,” the Forfeiture section also notes. That number reflects the dollar total of the 3,000-plus transactions for which Jackson used campaign funds—everything from toilet paper to $17,000 tobacco shop tabs to a Martha Vineyard’s retreat.

On its end, the government agreed that once someone calculates the “net value” of the $750,000 worth of stuff (“The amount obtained by sale of the item, minus any costs incurred in seizing, storing, and disposing of such property”), it will be “credited toward the [$750,000] money judgment” Jackson owes the feds. According to the agreement, the government can seek forfeiture of “substitute property” if Jackson “transferred, sold, or deposited with a third party assets he had purchased using proceeds of this offense” and that Jackson “consents to the forfeiture of any [items] … not specifically listed in this plea agreement up to the [$750,000].”

So what exactly is in this $750,000 shopping cart? The 24 items listed on the agreement include:

  • Memorabilia of Bruce Lee, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Jimi Hendrix, and Michael Jackson.
  • Specific items are a Michael Jackson hat for which Jackson paid $3,900 out of his campaign fund, and a Michael Jackson fedora which cost his campaign fund another $4,600.
  • There’s also the Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen guitar ($4,000).
  • There’s the football signed by American Presidents (purchased for $5,000 on the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth). 
  • Closing out the embarrassing list are four cashmere/mink/fox items.

The infamous mounted elk heads ($7,058) are not listed, nor is the most outlandish, excessive of the items Jackson used his campaign fund to buy: The $43,350 gold-plated Rolex. In fact, the items on the government’s list add up to only $61,910.

Northwestern University School of Law professor Juliet Sorensen, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Chicago office, told me by telephone from her vacation in upstate New York that she didn’t know why the Rolex was not on the list, but that, as noted above, “substitute assets may be used if items Jackson purchased “can’t be accessed; if they have been sold or transferred….Yes, it’s possible he gave it away. Why it’s not on there, I don’t know.”

The forfeiture process should be taking place right now. It’s handled by the U.S. Marshals Service, a unit of the U.S. Attorney’s office in DC. The U.S. Marshals both gather and sell the items.

Over the course of two days, I repeatedly called and left messages for Arvind Lal, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Section of the DC U.S. Attorney’s Office. He did not return my calls. (This morning the public information officer for the DC US Attorney’s office called and asked me to submit questions by email. We’ll add those answers when we have them.)

At last week’s sentencing hearing, Jesse Jr.’s attorney, Washington white collar criminal defense expert Reid Weingarten, told Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation) that there were no victims in the Jackson spending spree and cover-up. Anyone following the case even casually would likely have disagreed. Of course there were victims: the donors, many of them 2nd Congressional District constituents who live in economically impoverished neighborhoods. In announcing the sentences for Jesse Jr. (and for wife Sandi, but that’s another post), Obama appointee Manchen wrote that Jackson used his campaign fund as “a personal slush fund, stealing from the people who believed in him so he could live extravagantly.”

A call to Weingarten to ask him what in the world he was thinking in describing the Jackson crime as victimless, and, as an aside—where the Rolex resides at the moment—was not returned by press time.

To Prof. Sorensen, Weingarten’s statement was “so wrong.” She added, “I don’t think it resonated with the sentencing judge either.”

I asked Sorensen if the money obtained from the sold/auctioned stuff would be returned to those campaign donors. She answered that she’s not certain, but that it’s possible money could go to restitution for “various victims.” The recovered money, Sorensen explained, could also be used to fund “law enforcement initiatives.”

Still on the subject of the Rolex and other goodies, Sorensen said that if Jackson doesn’t turn things over, the plea agreement could “absolutely” be nullified. “The plea agreement, including concessions made by the government, is contingent on complying with forfeiture.”

In a follow-up email to Sorensen, I asked about the Jacksons’ houses in Chicago and DC. “Are those properties subject to forfeiture as well? They were not purchased with campaign funds but campaign funds were used to renovate the DC house.”

“They are not proceeds of the crime,” she answered, “and it’s hard to forfeit renovations.  Nonetheless, the houses could be substitute assets used to satisfy the judgment and order of forfeiture.”

In the most extreme case, if Jackson “breached” the agreement, the government “could seek resentencing” and “would be free from obligations [as spelled out in the agreement]. He could be subject to other crimes not charged in the information. [Jackson pled guilty to what’s known as an “information” (as opposed to an indictment)] … Statements he made in the course of debriefings or during the guilty plea hearing could be used against him.”

Having followed this case closely, I’d be flabbergasted if Jackson did anything to risk the agreement. His sentence of 30 months is widely considered to be relatively light. One thing is for certain, if Jesse Jackson, Jr. still has access to the Rolex, he won’t be taking it to prison with him. Inmates’ wristwatches, according to the Sun-Times, cannot cost more than $75.

Jesse Jr. is not the only politician whose Rolex has caused controversy in recent weeks. Virginia governor Robert McDonnell, who was on many shortlists to snatch the republican nomination for president in 2016, surely must wish that he had never sported an engraved (“71st Governor of Virginia”) Rolex. These days it looks like McDonnell will be lucky to avoid forced resignation, impeachment, or even indictment after nearly daily updates on gifts, the Rolex chief among them, his family received from a former donor.

McDonnell’s cursed Rolex cost $6,500, roughly one-seventh the price tag of Jesse Jr.’s over-the-top model.

 

Update:

I received answers to questions I posed on the JJJ forfeiture. The answers came via Bill Miller Public Information Officer, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

According to Miller, the forfeiture process is now under way. Jackson has thus far “turned over 13 items, including nine items of Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson memorabilia; a mink cashmere cape; a mink reversible parka; a black and red cashmere cape, and a black fox reversiblejacket.” Jackson has not yet forfeited/returned the Rolex .

Other questions to Miller included:

CF: Do U.S. Marshals retrieve items from Jackson, from his lawyer?

BM: “In this case, Mr. Jackson’s attorneys have provided the items to the FBI, which turned them over to the U.S. Marshals Service.”

CF: What substitute properties has Jackson provided to reach the $750,000 amount of illegally purchased goods and services?”

BM: “Thus far, none.”

CF: Is there a time limit on Jackson’s forfeiture of items? (He starts his prison term on 11/1/13.)

BM: “Forfeiture is an ongoing process. It continues until the forfeiture obligation is met.” Miller added that, “….Mr. Jackson indicated that he was going to try to satisfy the money judgment within the next 3 months.”

CF: Will the Jackson items be offered at a U.S. Marshal Service auction? If yes, when and where is that auction?

BM: “That is up to the U.S. Marshals Service, but we assume so.”

Miller also pointed out an error in my post (now corrected): “….the Marshals Service is not a unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as your story now states. It is a separate agency within the Department of Justice.”

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