HARARE, Zimbabwe – Just over a year ago, former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds tried to shed past disgrace with a potent campaign slogan: “Redemption.”
It didn’t work then and now Reynolds, once a rising star in the Democratic Party whose career collapsed when he was convicted of rape two decades ago, is under arrest again, this time for allegedly possessing pornography and violating immigration laws in Zimbabwe.
Reynolds, an Illinois Democrat who had won some prominence in Zimbabwe for helping draw investment to hotel and office projects, was being held in custody and was expected to appear in court soon, immigration official Ario Mabika said Tuesday.
The ex-politician, who lost his seat in Congress almost two decades ago because of the statutory rape conviction, was arrested Monday by police and immigration officials at a Harare hotel, according to the state-controlled newspaper, The Herald. He allegedly brought several Zimbabwean models and other women to his hotel room where he took photographs and videos.
As Reynolds was being taken to a government vehicle, he demanded that officials give him his mobile phone and laptop computer, according to The Herald, whose reporter arrived at the hotel as the arrest was taking place.
Reynolds reportedly complained that he was not expecting such treatment when he had brought investors to the country. He said he had been to Zimbabwe 17 times and had called for U.S. sanctions to be dropped against President Robert Mugabe and his associates. The sanctions were imposed because of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and in an effort to pressure the government to introduce democratic change.
Officials did not say where Reynolds was being held, but ordinarily such detainees would be kept at Harare Central Charge Office, a dingy concrete complex downtown where people are held a dozen to a cell and where a hole in the center serves as a toilet.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kelley refused to comment on the case, saying it was a matter involving a private citizen and that the embassy did not have a privacy waiver to divulge information.
This is the latest of several legal problems for Reynolds, who once was a Rhodes scholar. Reynolds resigned from his congressional seat in 1995 after he was convicted by a jury of having sex with a former campaign worker while she was underage, and then trying to thwart the investigation. While in prison he was also convicted of bank and campaign fraud for concealing debts to obtain bank loans and diverting money intended for voter registration drives into his election campaign.
He was in jail until his sentence was commuted by then-President Bill Clinton in January 2001.
In Harare, Reynolds has accumulated hotel bills worth $24,500, which he has not yet paid, The Herald reported.
Reynolds could face up to two years’ imprisonment or a hefty fine if found guilty of possessing pornographic material and deportation for breaching Zimbabwean immigration laws. It is illegal in Zimbabwe to possess any material of a sexual nature.
Before his arrest, Reynolds was involved in attracting investment for the $145 million construction of a Hilton Hotel and office complex in Harare, reported The Herald. Construction is expected to begin in April and be finished in 2016, said the newspaper, adding that he had toured the construction site with several government ministers and a businessman.
A Harvard graduate, Reynolds unseated U.S. Rep. Gus Savage in 1992, two years after a House ethics committee determined that during an official trip to Africa Savage had made improper sexual advances to a female Peace Corps volunteer. After Clinton commuted Reynolds’ sentence for bank fraud, he served his remaining time in a halfway house.
Reynolds’s arrest comes a little more than 14 months after he tried to resurrect his political career, running for the congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned from office and pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds on personal items. Jackson is now serving a 2 1/2 year prison term.
Reynolds was never really considered a serious candidate and that run ended in defeat, as did a 2004 run when in the Democratic primary he received just 6 percent of the vote.
Faure reported from Johannesburg. AP writer Don Babwin contributed to this report from Chicago.