Former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds stood in front of the cameras three years ago with signs that read “redemption.”
“It’s what you do after the mistakes,” Reynolds said in 2012 while announcing a run for a congressional vacancy left by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
But redemption appears to be elusive for Reynolds.
Some 20 years after his first criminal conviction, Reynolds was just named in a federal indictment alleging he failed to file federal tax returns for four consecutive years, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
Reynolds, 63, who lost his South Side and south suburban 2nd Congressional District seat in 1995 after being convicted of having sex with an underage campaign worker, was indicted on the tax charges on Thursday. The indictment was made public on Friday.
Reynolds didn’t file returns in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, according to the charges. Each count carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $250,000 fine.
It’s just the latest legal battle for Reynolds. Last year Reynolds was deported to the U.S. after paying a fine for violating Zimbabwe’s immigration laws.
Reynolds was ordered to pay a $100 fine or five days imprisonment after pleading guilty to flouting the country’s immigration laws by staying longer than his visa permitted. He also faced charges of possessing pornography after images of naked men and women were allegedly found on his iPhone. Those charges were ultimately dismissed.
At a downtown Chicago news conference last year, Reynolds said he was arrested because he had information about corrupt dealings by government officials in Zimbabwe.
He said he made his living as a consultant trying to connect American businesses with opportunities in Africa. But since that arrest, “that has all dried up.” Reynolds last year said he lives on “the largess of family and relatives.”
From the beginning, Reynolds’ political career was marked by intrigue.
In 1992, when Reynolds ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat, he claimed to have been the victim of a drive-by shooting. He tried to blame his opponent, Rep. Gus Savage, for the alleged shooting and even wore a large Band-Aid on his head after the mysterious incident.
Mel Reynolds talks on the telephone the day after his 1992 victory in the Democratic Primary. File Photo.
Reynolds, a former Rhodes Scholar, held the congressional seat from 1993 to 1995. He was then convicted of having sex with an underage campaign worker. During his 1995 trial, prosecutors read from a taped telephone transcript with the woman who accused him of having sex with her when she was 16.
His voice grew perky when the girl told him that she knew of a wild 15-year-old Catholic schoolgirl who wanted to have sex with him.
“Did I win the Lotto?” Reynolds allegedly exclaimed.
His lawyer Sam Adam told the courtroom: “He does like to talk sex on the telephone.”
While Reynolds was in jail for that conviction, the feds hit him 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 Jackson’s seat after Jackson’s resignation amid a federal investigation.
There he said his crimes were “almost 18, 20 years ago” and shouldn’t be a life sentence. “I want to serve.”
Then U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and former Rep. Mel Reynolds attend Salem Baptist Church togetherin 2001. File Photo by Brian Jackson
When asked how he responded to people who said he had no shame, Reynolds said:
“I say to those people that I’m not perfect. If you’re perfect, I’m not appealing. I’m appealing to people who want to take a fair look at all of my history, all of my work, all of my education. What I’ve done since those times . . . and make a fair judgment.”