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Prospect of prison looms for ex-congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges in an alleged scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items.

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Then-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. speaks at a Democratic primary election night party in Chicago last March. The former congressman and his wife Sandra were charged Friday with spending $750,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.

M. Spencer Green/AP

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The prospect of prison looms over former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife after they agreed to plead guilty to charges in an alleged scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items — including furs, a gold watch, a football signed by U.S. presidents and even a hat once owned by Michael Jackson.

It wasn't immediately clear how much time either Jackson could end up doing when the legal drama inevitably reaches its climax before a federal sentencing judge within a few months. But judges frown on brazen breaches of public trust, said one former federal prosecutor, and that may mean the former Chicago congressman will likely to have to serve at least a few years behind bars.

"It shows hubris and arrogance that a politician sees his campaign coffers as his to spend as he likes," said Jeff Cramer, who as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago worked on multiple corruption cases. "With these kinds of charges, I cannot imagine him not going to prison ... for 3 1/2 or 4 1/2 years."

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He thought Mrs. Jackson, at most, would spend several months in prison.

Prosecutors are reluctant to ask judges to send couples with school-age children, like the Jacksons, to prison for long terms simultaneously — so it's possible, Cramer said, that the government will seek to stagger their sentences in such a way that the Jacksons aren't behind bars at the same time.

Federal prosecutors on Friday filed one charge of conspiracy against the former congressman and charged his ex-alderman wife, Sandra, 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. Both agreed to plead guilty in deals with federal prosecutors.

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