Former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds is headed back to jail, but for a short enough time — four months — that he said hopes to be living in Africa by Christmas.
“I’m done with America. I’m going to do this, and I’m going home — to Africa. … I’ve given up on America,” Reynolds told reporters after U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman sentenced him to six months imprisonment for his failure to file income tax returns.
With credit for two months previously served after he was jailed in 2016 for violating bond conditions, Reynolds will only need to spend an additional four months in custody to complete his sentence.
Federal prosecutors had sought a sentence of up to 27 months in prison for Reynolds, as suggested under federal sentencing guidelines, largely based on his two prior convictions.
Even the U.S. Probation Office recommended that Reynolds serve a 10-month sentence to “send a message” to him that “he is not above the law.”
But Gettleman settled on what he acknowledged in court was a “fairly lenient” sentence that took into account the age of the 66-year-old ex-congressman who now says he lives in a Monee motel.
“It’s really a tragedy you’ve squandered the opportunities you’ve had and the type of person you could have been,” the judge told Reynolds.
Gettleman endorsed Reynolds request to report to federal prison officials to begin serving his sentence on Aug. 1. The judge told Reynolds it is likely he will finish out his time at either the Metropolitan Correctional Center or the Kankakee County Jail, where he was held previously.
Reynolds, whose amazing rise from poverty to become a Rhodes Scholar, Harvard grad and then congressman was matched by an equally amazing fall from grace during the 1990s, had sought probation.
Afterward, he thanked Gettleman outside court “for his understanding of the situation.”
“Four months is a lot better than 27 months, which is what the prosecution was asking for,” said Reynolds, who did not hide his bitterness toward prosecutors and news media.
“You guys were going crazy with this two years, and it didn’t happen,” Reynolds said.
Before Gettleman passed sentence, Reynolds asked rhetorically: “How long does a person have to pay for mistakes?
The judge later answered him: “It follows you the rest of your life. It goes to your character.”
Gettleman found Reynolds guilty in September on four misdemeanor counts of failing to file income tax returns on more than $400,000 he was paid between 2009 and 2012. Most of the money was from Chicago businessmen seeking his help in securing business deals in Zimbabwe.
Gettleman said Thursday that in actuality Reynolds hasn’t filed a federal tax return since 2002.
Assistant U.S. attorneys Barry Jonas and Georgia Alexakis argued Reynolds’ failure to file resulted in a state and federal tax loss of approximately $95,324.
Reynolds, who acted as his own attorney at trial, contended the money was paid as advances for business expenses and therefore did not qualify as income that needed to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
This is Reynolds’ third conviction and prison sentence.
His two previous convictions stemmed from his time in Congress: the first in state court in 1995 for having sex with an underage campaign worker and the second in federal court in 1997 on campaign and bank fraud charges.
In 2001, President Bill Clinton commuted Reynolds’ federal sentence with more than two years remaining, allowing him to serve the rest of his sentence at a halfway house.
As the sentencing hearing was winding down, Gettleman told Reynolds: “I really hope this is the last time you have to stand before a judge.”
That’s when Reynolds, a Mississippi native who grew up in Chicago, first mentioned his plans to move to Africa.
Gettleman light-heartedly suggested Reynolds stay away from Zimbabwe, where he was arrested in 2014 in what Reynolds still insists was a political setup.
Reynolds told the judge he prefers Zambia and South Africa, later telling reporters he already has “temporary residence” in an African nation.