Less than a year after disgraced former Rep. Mel Reynolds ran a failed bid for Congress under the slogan of “redemption,” the convicted sex offender is again facing allegations of sexual misconduct, this time in Zimbabwe, according to immigration officials and state media reports.
The state-owned newspaper The Herald reported that Reynolds was found with pornography when he was arrested in the southern African country on Monday. Possession of pornography is illegal in Zimbabwe.
There was no official confirmation of the pornography allegations. Francis Mabika, an assistant regional immigration officer, said Reynolds had been picked up for living in Zimbabwe without a valid visa.
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The allegations are yet another mark on the sullied reputation of the former Rhodes scholar and one-time rising star in the Democratic Party, who was tried and jailed in the U.S. almost 20 years ago for having sex with an underage campaign worker and soliciting child pornography.
Reynolds was arrested Monday at the Bronte Hotel in the capital city of Harare, a hotel manager told the Tribune.
“Gentlemen came in yesterday, they took him and related that they are police,” the manager, Mitchelin Thomas, said when reached by phone on Tuesday.
Mabika said Reynolds has been in Zimbabwe since November. Reynolds could not be reached for comment.
State Department spokesman Noel Clay in Washington said he could not comment because the department did not have a privacy waiver.
“We are aware of the reports of the detention of a U.S. citizen in Harare,” Clay said. “We take our obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad seriously and stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services.”
The Herald reported that Reynolds had racked up $24,500 in bills at two local hotels. Thomas told the Tribune that Reynolds had not gone over the discretionary spending limit set by the Bronte hotel, and that the hotel had no role in his arrest.
Reynolds, 62, was born in Mound Bayou, Miss., and rose from a childhood in poverty to England’s prestigious Oxford University, where he earned a law degree. He was elected to Congress in 1992, and was indicted on charges of criminal sexual assault, obstruction of justice and child pornography in his first term.
He was convicted and jailed in that case in 1995 and was later convicted of misusing campaign funds and defrauding banks, federal crimes that earned him an additional prison sentence.
President Bill Clinton commuted Reynolds’ fraud sentence in 2001, with two years remaining to be served. After his release, Reynolds tried repeatedly to regain his congressional seat, including an attempt last year to succeed disgraced former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Reynolds acknowledged at the time that he had made “mistakes,” but said his past crimes “shouldn’t be a life sentence.”
Reynolds has been working in recent years to recast himself as an American liaison to African business interests.
The Herald quoted Reynolds as saying Monday that he was surprised by his arrest because “I have been in this country 17 times where I have done a lot of work for the people including the fight against sanctions.”
“I misplaced my passport but I found it implying that I am not certain if I breached immigration laws against this country,” he said, according to The Herald, after asking the officers to give him his mobile phone and laptop.
Reynolds was recently involved in a deal to construct a $145 million five-star Hilton Hotel and office complex in Zimbabwe, The Herald reported. He was pictured last year standing alongside government officials in a Herald report about the launch of the hotel construction. A spokeswoman for Hilton, based in McLean, Va., had no immediate comment.
Last June, the South African news outlet the Mail & Guardian Online reported that Reynolds was working with Chicago powerbroker Elzie Higginbottom on potential business pursuits in Zimbabwe.
When Higginbottom led a delegation of Chicago businesspeople to Zimbabwe in November 2011, Reynolds acted as Higginbottom’s spokesperson, the Mail & Guardian reported.
Reynolds praised Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe, calling him “one of the last lions of Africa that brought freedom to the people of this great continent,” and scolded the U.S. for imposing sanctions on the country.
The remarks drew a strong rebuke from Higginbottom at the time.
“We can assume no responsibility for comments he (Reynolds) made in Zimbabwe or elsewhere about his political/professional affiliations,” Higginbottom said, according to the Mail & Guardian
Higginbottom could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Kim Geiger reported from Chicago and Katherine Skiba from Washington. Reuters contributed.
Twitter: @kimgeiger @katherineskiba