Former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds arrested in Zimbabwe, pleads not guilty

Written By BY NATASHA KORECKI Political Reporter Posted: 02/19/2014, 09:52am
Array Mel Reynolds in 2012

Embattled ex-Illinois congressman Mel Reynolds added a new chapter to his storied biography on Monday: He was arrested in Zimbabwe on pornography allegations.

The onetime Rhodes Scholar whose congressional career was derailed after being convicted of bank fraud and sexual misdonduct was arrested on Monday for allegedly possessing pornographic material and violating immigration laws, a Zimbabwean immigration official said.

Reynolds, 62, pleaded not guilty in a Zimbabwe court Wednesday on the pornography charge. He will appear in court again on Thursday for his bail hearing. Also on Thursday, he will be asked to enter a plea on a separate charge of breaking Zimbabwe’s immigration laws.

He told reporters Wednesday he had received no assistance from the U.S. Embassy.

Reynolds held the 2nd Congressional District seat from 1993 to 1995. He was then convicted of having sex with an underage campaign worker. While in jail for that conviction, the feds hit Reynolds with campaign finance charges for improperly using his campaign fund. In 2001, former President Bill Clinton commuted his sentence to time served.

When released from prison, Reynolds made more than one attempt to reclaim his old seat.

That included in 2012, when Reynolds announced he was running for the vacancy left by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned amid a federal investigation. Jackson is now in prison for stealing $750,000 from his campaign fund.

At that news appearance, Reynolds stood before signs that read “Redemption.”

“It’s what you do after the mistakes,” Reynolds said, adding that his crimes were “almost 18, 20 years ago,” and shouldn’t be a life sentence. “I want to serve.”

At that time, Reynolds said he had made business trips to Africa.

According to an article in the state-owned Herald newspaper, Monday’s arrest followed accusations that Reynolds brought Zimbabwean models and other women to his hotel room where he took photographs and videos.

The newspaper reported that as Reynolds was being escorted to a government vehicle, he demanded officials give him his mobile phone and laptop computer. Reynolds complained that he was not expecting such treatment when he had brought investors to the country, according to the newspaper. He said he had been to Zimbabwe 17 times and had called for U.S. sanctions to be dropped against President Robert Mugabe and his top associates.

Reynolds also has accumulated hotel bills worth $24,500, which he has not yet paid, reported The Herald.

Reynolds could face up to two years’ imprisonment and deportation if convicted of possessing pornographic material and for breaching Zimbabwean immigration laws. It is illegal in Zimbabwe to possess any material of a sexual nature.

Before his arrest, Reynolds had gained prominence in Zimbabwe for being involved in attracting investment for the $145 million construction of a Hilton Hotel and office complex in Harare, reported The Herald. Construction is expected to begin in April and be finished in 2016, said the newspaper.

“He toured the construction site back then in the company of government ministers Walter Mzembi, Webster Shamu and Ignatius Chombo, and businessman Mr. Farai Jere,” according to the paper.

Reynolds has been quoted in the past as having been on trips with Elzie Higginbottom, the former longtime head of the Cook County Housing Authority.

A 2011 report by the Global Information Network noted that Higginbottom had “scoped out venues for a major hotel, convention center and casino.”

The article quotes Reynolds as saying: “As a former elected official and now as a businessman, my personal view is that President Mugabe is one of the last Lions of Africa that brought freedom to the people of this Great Continent.”

Reached Tuesday, Higginbottom told the Sun-Times: “I have not heard from Mel Reynolds for a couple of years.”

He added, “that’s unfortunate,” when asked about Reynolds being held in Zimbabwe. “I don’t have anything to say.”

Reynolds, an Illinois Democrat and a Harvard graduate, unseated U.S. Rep. Gus Savage in 1992, two years after a House ethics committee determined that during an official trip to Africa, Savage had made improper sexual advances to a female Peace Corps volunteer. Reynolds resigned from his congressional seat in 1995 after he was convicted of sexual misconduct, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Zimbabwe, Karen Kelley, said the embassy could not comment as it was a private matter and the embassy did not have a privacy waiver.

Contributing: AP


Twitter: @natashakorecki

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