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Jesse Jackson Jr. says couple owes $1.8M: ‘Something has to give’

Jesse Jackson Jr. and his attorney, Brendan Hammer, talked to reporters at the Daley Center after a hearing in Jackson's divorce case. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. on Tuesday said he and his estranged wife Sandi Jackson are $1.8 million in debt thanks to legal bills from their federal criminal prosecution and mounting fees from an acrimonious divorce playing out in courtrooms in two cities.

Jackson Jr. talked to reporters during an at-times rambling question-and-answer session following a brief hearing in his divorce case at the Daley Center, opining on the state of Washington politics and the best way to settle the couple’s bills. Neither Jackson nor his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson, has worked since their release from prison after serving sentences meted out for misusing campaign funds and tax charges.

Jackson Jr. said he is living solely off Social Security Disability payments — after 17 years in Congress, Jackson Jr. in 2012 took a leave of absence for treatment of bipolar disorder — and that those payouts don’t add up to the $138,000 reported by his wife’s attorneys.

“Something has to give . . . because it’s impossible to spend to pay two sets of lawyers in this city and another set in Washington, D.C., and child support and mortgage,” Jackson said.

Asked if he might ever be able to return to work, Jackson Jr. said he’d “love to.”

“I’m thinking of becoming a divorce lawyer,” he joked, throwing an arm over his attorney, Brendan Hammer.

Jackson arrived at the Daley Center after phoning into a divorce hearing in Washington; the divorce hearings there and in Chicago were held nearly simultaneously. Sandi Jackson was present in court in Washington. Jackson Jr. said she has said she will never set foot in Chicago — a city where she served as a South Side alderman for seven years.

“Sandra will not return to Chicago, will not return to this jurisdiction,” Jackson said. “She’s made it clear to me, made it clear to members of my family, and even our children, that she will never return to Chicago ever again.

“I have no idea what happened here that would create that disposition, but it is at the heart of this matter.”

Sandi Jackson’s lawyer, Jessica Bank Interlandi, said her client did not care to respond to her estranged husband’s remarks.

“Mrs. Jackson has been pretty silent up to this point and she really hasn’t responded to his statement about the family or her motive or his motives,” Interlandi said. “Her focus is on protecting her children, who live in D.C., [but] have exposure to what Mr. Jackson says. … One of the reasons she has authorized me to speak is because she would like him to be very judicious in his public statements because they really don’t serve useful purpose in these proceedings and potentially could harm the children.”

The jurisdiction in which the one-time political power couple’s divorce case will finally play out remains an open question.

Last summer, Jesse Jackson Jr. filed preliminary paperwork in Chicago to divorce Sandi Jackson, while she still was finishing a one-year sentence on tax charges. Sandi Jackson has filed for divorce in Washington, where she has lived since her release from prison.

Interlandi said the children had attended school in D.C. since kindergarten, and that Jackson Jr. lived with them in Washington while Sandi Jackson was imprisoned.

Jesse Jackson Jr. has been living in a home the couple owns on the South Side of Chicago. He and Sandi were assigned to staggered sentences, and he served nearly two years for misusing $750,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses, including the purchase of a fedora that had once belonged to pop star Michael Jackson.

In the months leading up to the couple’s plea deal with federal prosecutors in 2013, the once media-friendly couple’s relationship with the press soured — especially for Sandi, who referred to the press assembled outside a closed-door fundraiser in 2012 as “jackals.” Jackson Jr., after winning a ninth term in Congress, took a leave of absence for “exhaustion” the same year.

The couple so far have been sparring in Washington about how much financial support the former congressman, who is living off Social Security Disability Insurance payments because he suffers from bipolar disorder and depression. In Cook County, the case so far has largely hinged on where the legal dissolution of their marriage will take place.

Jesse Jackson said Tuesday that his income from the disability payments was lower than the $138,000 reported in court records.

“Growing out of the criminal case and now growing out of the divorce, we’re at based on our calculations, $1.8 million in debt,” he said. “That’s the reality, lawyers that we owe everywhere, two mortgages that we owe everywhere.”

Jesse Jackson Jr. and his attorney, Brendan Hammer, talked to reporters at the Daley Center after a hearing in Jackson’s divorce case. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

The judge in Washington last month reduced Jesse Jackson Jr.’s child support payments by $1,200. Lawyers for Sandi Jackson said Jesse Jackson Jr.’s pleas to reduce his child support showed his “unwillingness to make sure his kids are having what they need.”

The former congressman’s lawyers have argued that the divorce should play out in Cook County, where the couple married, bought their first house, and where Jesse represented the 2nd Congressional District and Sandi Jackson was twice elected alderman of the 7th Ward.

Jesse Jackson Jr.’s lawyers also have claimed that the case should remain in Illinois because unspecified “acts” committed by Sandi in Chicago led to the breakup, and have subpoenaed former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and others for texts, email messages and information about gifts provided to Sandi Jackson while her husband was in prison. Jackson’s lawyers have called the requests “unwarranted subpoenas full of unsupported innuendo.”

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