Mel Reynolds asks judge to move him from prison to halfway house

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A federal judge gave special permission to former congressman Mel Reynolds to visit South Africa - and only South Africa - then scolded Reynolds in court Thursday when it was revealed Reynolds made a trip to Zambia while he was in Africa. | AP file photo

In a letter to a federal judge last month, former Congressman Mel Reynolds made it clear that he would rather be in South Africa at the side of his sick daughter than attending court hearings on tax charges.

After two weeks stateside in the Kankakee County Jail, where U.S. District Judge John Darrah sent Reynolds to await trial, Reynolds now says he would be better off in a halfway house.

In an six-page, handwritten motion, Reynolds said he has suffered from chest pain and high blood pressure since arriving at Kankakee’s Jerome Combs Detention Center, and the threat of attacks by gang members has landed him in solitary confinement. Reynolds, who is acting as his own lawyer, acknowledged that he still has not been able to find a friend or relative willing to put him up and suggested a halfway house on the Near West Side.

“If I am not moved now, I fear that it will be impossible for me to exercise my 6th Amendment right to represent myself pro se and any hope of a fair trial will be lost,” Reynolds said, noting that he must spend 23 hours a day in his cell and has been unable to review discovery materials in his case.

Reynolds was arrested on a bench warrant after returning to the U.S. from South Africa two weeks after he failed to show for a scheduled hearing in Darrah’s court. In a news release sent from Africa, Reynolds had said he had wanted to remain in Africa with his daughter, who was suffering from an illness Reynolds did not fully explain. Federal prosecutors noted that Reynolds’ daughter had made posts to Facebook indicating she had been traveling in Europe and pursuing an ambitious exercise regimen during the period her father purportedly had been looking after her.

Reynolds, who had previously served time on charges related to having sex with an underage campaign worker and for misusing funds in his campaign accounts, said that members of the Black Gangster Disciples had targeted him for a hit because Reynolds in the 1990s had opposed the release of Disciples leader Larry Hoover. Reynolds said prison officials had placed him in protective custody during his last stint in prison.

“While in Federal incarceration in the late ’90s there were two attempts on my life,” Reynolds wrote. “Part of the reason that President William J. Clinton granted my petition for executive clemency and commuted my sentence was to remove me from this dangerous life threatening situation.”

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