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February 21, 2014

Former US Congressman Arrested in Zimbabwe After Previous Legal Troubles

by Mariama Diallo

Former U.S. congressman Mel Reynolds has denied charges of possessing pornographic images and videos two days after his arrest at a hotel in Zimbabwe. This is not the first time the congressman has had run-ins with the law; he was forced to resign his seat in 1995 after being convicted on charges of having sex with a minor.
 
On Wednesday, Mel Reynolds smiled as he walked past journalists and into Zimbabwe's Harare courthouse. There he entered a plea of not guilty to two charges, including possessing pornography.
 
His lawyer, Arthur Gurira, spoke to VOA via phone from Zimbabwe.
 
“He’s overstayed his visa [which] expired on December 2013. The second charge ispossession of articles and it’s being alleged they found nude pictures in his phone,” said Gurira.
 
The former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives was born in 1952 in Mississipi, but he grew up in Illinois. 
 
Lorenzo Morris teaches political science at Howard University and is familiar with Reynolds' career.
 
“Well, it’s a sad story, but it’s not all that surprising because very often when we are overwhelmed at an early period, as he was when he started his career; having come from a relatively disadvantaged situation and becoming a Rhodes scholar and then being elected to Congress in a competitive city like Chicago, we forget they have to leave a great deal behind," said Morris.
 
Reynolds was once a rising star in the Democratic Party but was forced to resign his seat in 1995 for having sex with an underage campaign worker. He also spent time in prison on fraud charges, but his sentence was commuted by President Clinton in 2001. 
 
“He was someone who can deal with the black power community and the civil rights community without being a part of it, because he’s been in the elite part of the dominant society’s educational system. But that very separation also brings with it a degree of insularity and vulnerability,” said Morris.
 
Morris also said that personal weaknesses can remain, whether in Africa or not.  Reynolds has been to Zimbabwe many times, apparently on business.
 
Last year, he made an unsuccessful bid to return to Congress. That was his second attempt at a political comeback.