Government prosecutors Friday filed a forfeiture motion naming the homes of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi, in a move legal observers said could result in them losing one or both homes.
The motion filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., comes just days before Jackson and his wife are scheduled to be sentenced on charges related to Jackson's misuse of $750,000 in campaign funds.
Later Friday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington issued a statement insisting it was not seeking "to take over" or seize the Jacksons' two homes -- one in the nation's capital and the other in Chicago.
"The motion filed by the government today seeks to forfeit the defendant's interest in the two properties in the event that they are sold," it said. "This is a standard filing in cases in which a defendant has a significant money judgment and equity in property that could be used to satisfy the money judgment."
A message seeking comment from Jackson's attorney, Reid Weingarten, was not returned.
But legal observers who read through Friday's motion said that, for all practical purposes, the Jacksons' homes are now in jeopardy.
"The government statement is soft-pedaling a bitter reality," said Joe Lopez, a defense attorney in Chicago who practices in both state and federal court. "This filing is a big deal -- to the Jacksons."
The Washington home, a Victorian-style townhouse, is valued at more than $2 million. The Chicago home is on the southeast side of the city hugging Lake Michigan
If a judge approves the forfeiture motion, the government could act quickly to force the sale of the homes, said Lopez, who has no connection to the Jackson cases.
"The government will be in the driver's seat about when the houses are sold," he said. "And they are not going to let the Jacksons live in the homes for 20 years."
Earlier this year, Jackson, the son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr., pleaded guilty to charges he spent $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items, from a gold-plated Rolex watch to mounted elk heads.
Jackson's plea agreement requires he pay the $750,000 back and indicates he will be subject to a host of other financial penalties. But prosecutors said in their Friday motion that they have recovered only half of 24 items Jackson bought with the campaign funds that he agreed to hand over -- with the 12 items worth about $21,000 combined. That leaves the government far short of the $750,000 Jackson agreed to pay, triggering the latest forfeiture motion, the filing says.
At Wednesday's sentencing, prosecutors will seek a four-year prison term for Jackson, 48, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements. Jackson's wife, a 49-year-old former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty to filing false joint tax returns; prosecutors want a year-and-a-half prison term for her.
The Jacksons have two school-aged children, and one issue the sentencing judge will have to decide is whether to stagger their sentences so both mother and father aren't imprisoned at the same time.