CHICAGO — A showy red cape and an autographed Michael Jackson poster drew the most interest from potential buyers as a government auction of around a dozen personal items forfeited by prison-bound ex-congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. got underway Tuesday.
The online auction, which will accept bids over two weeks, is the U.S. Marshals Service way of trying to recoup part of the $750,000 in campaign funds the Chicago Democrat and his wife, Sandra, illegally spent — often to satisfy penchants for attention-grabbing clothes and pop-culture keepsakes.
The red cashmere cape drew the most attention in the hours just after bidding began early Tuesday. By evening, it registered 39 bids — pushing the initial asking price from around $300 to $965. Court documents say Jackson purchased it — with campaign funds — for $1,500 from an Edwards Lowell Furs store.
After a sluggish start, bidding surged during the day for a framed poster dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album — and signed by the pop star himself. By Tuesday evening, there were 45 bids for it,— with the highest bidder willing to part with $1,560 for the pleasure of owning it.
Bids were fewer and farther between for a framed Bruce Lee autograph: It tallied a mere 16 bids by the evening. The highest was for $450.
Calculating existing bids for all the items being auctioned as of Wednesday evening, the feds looked to rake in more than $7,000 from the Jackson auction. Dozens of other frivolities he spent his donors' money on, including two stuffed elk heads and a football signed by U.S. presidents, aren't part of this auction.
The Jackson items up for auction aren't the oddest the Marshals Service has sold off to help pay felons' fines or court-mandated restitution. The underwear of convicted Wall Street fraudster Bernie Madoff was once auctioned by the same Texas-based company contracted to sell the Jackson belongings.
The notoriety surrounding a criminal case can sometimes boost the value of objects that — ironically in the Jacksons' case — become celebrity memorabilia in their own right, explained Jason Rzepniewski, an auctioneer at the Texas company, Gaston & Sheehan Auctioneers Inc.
Buyers have until Sept. 26 to bid at www.txauction.com for any of the Jacksons' former possessions that tug at their heart strings.
As the auction began Tuesday, one option for eager buyers was a guitar supposedly signed by both Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson, which prosecutors said the former congressman spent $4,000 in campaign funds to purchase. But hours later, it was scratched from the auction. The U.S. Marshals Service said it was pulled from the auction because of questions about its authenticity.
Jesse Jackson Jr., the 48-year-old son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a one-time golden boy of Democratic politics, is now effectively broke thanks to his legal troubles, his lawyers have said.
He also faces prison time.
Within the next several months, Jackson must leave his two school-aged kids and enter a federal facility to begin serving a 2½-year term for to scheming to spend campaign funds on himself and his wife. The same federal judge who sentenced Jackson last month also imposed a yearlong sentence on his wife.