After months in southern Africa, former Rep. Mel Reynolds has returned to Chicago with dramatic stories of espionage, Zimbabwe jails, pornography charges, human rights violations and malaria.
And he blames the Chicago media for misreporting all of it.
“Why is there a double standard when it comes to Mel Reynolds?” he asked during a news conference at a downtown hotel.
A former Rhodes scholar, Reynolds was a fast-rising star in the Democratic Party in the 1990s, but he resigned after being convicted of sexual assault, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography. Later in a separate case, he was convicted of bank and campaign fraud.
Reynolds was arrested in February in Zimbabwe and later pleaded guilty to staying in the country on an expired visa. The court dismissed pornography charges against him on a technicality after the prosecution failed to clear the charges through the prosecutor-general's office as required by law.
In a rambling, stream-of-conscious soliloquy at the start of the news conference today, Reynolds, 62, said he was arrested because he has knowledge of illegal dealings between Zimbabwean and American officials. He said he also planned to detail human rights violations under President Robert Mugabe’s regime.
“They arrested me because they wanted to stop me from spying,” he said.
His iPhone was confiscated when he was arrested at the Bronte Hotel in the capital city of Harare, but authorities never found any pornographic images or pictures of nude women despite the allegations, he said.
After his arrest, Reynolds spent several days in jail, where he complained of an overcrowded cell with broken toilets and a sickening stench.
“I didn’t eat for five days,” he said. “They pushed me into the latrine at one point and I cut my foot wide open. They wouldn’t let me go to the hospital for five days.”
He was deported to South Africa after being convicted of the visa violation and fined $100.
Reynolds accused several local news outlets of defaming him, but did not name them.
“Just because a person doesn’t have a perfect background doesn’t mean you can run anything about him,” he said.
Yet Reynolds insisted his legal travails were not the most difficult part of his trip to southern Africa. He says he contracted malaria in January and, while being treated at a Zimbabwean hospital, learned that adult son, Mel Reynolds Jr., had been shot in the leg in Boston.
“I can’t tell you what it feels like to be lying in a bed, helpless. I couldn’t leave, I had malaria. I had high fevers. They wouldn’t let me leave the hospital,” he said. “I was lying there helpless and my son was lying in a hospital bed shot.”
Reynolds Sr., who championed tougher gun laws during his brief congressional tenure, lashed out at local reporters for not reporting about his son’s injury.
“It was like the press didn’t care,” he said. “It begs the question: If my son would have been arrested for bank robbery or if my son had been arrested for a sex crime … would the press have missed that? Would that not have been reported?”
A spokesman for the Boston Police Department said he could not confirm the shooting. And many of Reynolds’ other claims could not be verified by the Tribune.
The former congressman said he is currently living in Chicago, but soon plans to move to the south suburbs. He said he lost several consulting jobs after his arrest and some people no longer return his phone calls.
He depends on the “largesse of family and friends” to survive financially. A friend, for example, paid for the hotel conference room where he held his news conference, Reynolds said.
Though he railed against leaders in both parties and made an impassioned plea for gun control during his 30-minute news conference, Reynolds repeatedly said he has no plans to run for office again after his failed congressional bid in 2012.
“Am I done with politics?” he asked. “I’d like to be done with politics, but I don’t know.”
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