Former Rep. Mel Reynolds is expected to be freed and deported from Zimbabwe as early as Tuesday after pornography charges were dropped Friday and he pleaded guilty to a visa violation.
Reynolds' lawyer, Arthur Gurira, said his client remained in jail in the southern African country but could be released Tuesday or Wednesday after immigration authorities complete deportation paperwork.
“The papers are being processed,” Gurira said. “Once that's done, he'll be free.”
Asked if Reynolds would be bound for Chicago, the lawyer said: “I wouldn't know.”
The disgraced Illinois ex-congressman denied charges he was found with nude pictures and videos of women and men having sexual intercourse on his mobile phone. The count was an alleged violation of Zimbabwe's Censorship and Entertainments Control Act, according to Gurira, and carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine. Pornography is banned in Zimbabwe.
Harare magistrate Tendai Mahwe agreed with Reynolds’ lawyer that state prosecutors had not sought written authority from the prosecutor general for the pornography charge. “This makes the actions of the state null and void,” Gurira said.
Earlier on Friday, Reynolds pleaded guilty to staying in Zimbabwe on an expired visa. Mahwe said Reynolds should be deported for the visa misdemeanor, and also fined him $100 or five days in prison.
Reynolds, 62, has been jailed since Monday after his arrest at the Bronte Hotel in the capital city of Harare.
Asked about Reynolds’ mood, Gurira said: “He’s OK. He’s very positive. He’s very happy. He’s in a very positive mood and he is quite a strong individual.”
The lawyer told the court his client had suffered a mild stroke earlier this year.
Gurira said Reynolds would temporarily be barred from returning to Zimbabwe, but he did not think the ban would not last forever. Reynolds “has many friends in Zimbabwe,” he said.
At the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Washington, an official said whether Reynolds would be ever allowed to return to Zimbabwe would hinge on the language in the court order. “If the court declares him persona non grata, he cannot come back,” said the official, who asked not to be quoted by name.
Johnnie Carson, who was the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe from 1995 to 1997 and is now a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, said deportations from Zimbabwe “are not common.”
“They’re rather unusual and they’re generally done in sensitive situations where a government does not want to have a lingering political issue with a case or an individual involved in a case,” he said. “It becomes an easy way to dispose of what could become a delicate, difficult or embarrassing case.”
Reynolds’ troubles in Zimbabwe come about a year after he ran unsuccessfully for his old congressional seat under the slogan of “Redemption.” A former Rhodes scholar and rising star in the Democratic Party, Reynolds was convicted in two separate cases in the 1990s for having sex with an underage campaign worker and for bank and campaign fraud.
According to Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper, Reynolds was recently involved in a deal to construct a $145 million five-star Hilton Hotel and office complex there.
A spokesperson for Hilton Worldwide said Friday it had not finalized an agreement to build or develop a hotel in Zimbabwe and had no relationship with Reynolds.
The Reuters news service contributed from Zimbabwe. Katherine Skiba reported from Washington.
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