Ex-Congressman Mel Reynolds, facing tax charges, gets locked up

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Mel Reynolds talks to reporters after an earlier appearance in federal court. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times file photo

A misdemeanor tax case against an ex-congressman delivered yet another twist Wednesday when a federal judge locked up former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds.

And then Reynolds contacted the Chicago Sun-Times to complain he was being held in 23-hour isolation.

U.S. District Judge John Darrah gave Reynolds six days last week to find a place to live where he could be put on electronic monitoring. Reynolds said Wednesday he had failed to find such a place, but he asked for time to keep looking. He also announced plans to represent himself.

“I’m not a flight risk,” Reynolds insisted in court.

The judge countered that Reynolds twice violated the conditions of his bond — once by visiting Zambia without the judge’s permission, and most recently by failing to return to Chicago on time from South Africa, where he said he had been tending to his ailing daughter.

The judge issued a warrant for Reynolds’ arrest in March, and Reynolds was taken into custody last week at the Atlanta airport. A federal judge in Georgia then ordered Reynolds released on his own recognizance, allowing Reynolds to return on his own to Chicago.

“You came back two weeks late, Mr. Reynolds,” Darrah said.

Darrah ordered Reynolds held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. But Reynolds later reached a reporter by phone —he said he was allowed to make a call — and said he had been taken to a Kankakee County lockup. His trial is set for June 20, but he said he isn’t being given access to related documents.

“I have no way of preparing for my case,” Reynolds said.

Prosecutors have pointed to social media posts by Reynolds’ daughter to suggest that she is not as ill as Reynolds has said. The judge noted Wednesday that Reynolds’ daughter shared details online of a trip to Germany while Reynolds said he was spending time with her in South Africa. Reynolds told the judge she went to Germany to seek alternative treatment while he was in Zambia.

The judge said it appeared “she was on a holiday.”

The feds didn’t necessarily seek detention for Reynolds, in spite of his failure to return to the United States on time. They instead sought home confinement and electronic monitoring. But Reynolds said he couldn’t find a place to stay that would accommodate the condition. The situation was further complicated by lifetime restrictions on Reynolds’ residency stemming from his conviction decades ago for having sex with an underage campaign worker.

Reynolds was forced into a similar scramble last July, but he avoided detention at the time.

“I looked,” Reynolds said Wednesday in court. “Desperately looked.”

Reynolds was indicted last June for failing to file tax returns between 2009 and 2012. Shortly after he was charged, it was revealed that his case could pull two prominent Chicago businessmen to the witness stand. Real estate developer Elzie Higginbottom and onetime-mayoral candidate Willie Wilson separately hired Reynolds to do consulting work involving Zimbabwe on their behalf in recent years.

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