Former Congressman Mel Reynolds headed back to prison

By Bill Dwyer For Chronicle Media

Mel Reynolds

Mel Reynolds, the disgraced former U.S. Congressman who was convicted in both state and federal court in the 1990s, is headed back to prison for failing to file federal income taxes.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman sentenced Reynolds, 66, to six months in prison for “willfully failing” to file a federal tax return over a four-year period from 2009-12.

Gettleman credited Reynolds for two months time served. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of between 21 months and 27 months, and a presentencing report had recommended he serve four consecutive 10-month terms.

Reynolds, who is infamous for having had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer in 1992, was sentenced to four years in state prison in 1995 for aggravated criminal sexual abuse of that girl. In 1997 he was sentenced 78 months in federal prison for bank and wire fraud.

Reynolds was indicted in June 2015 on four counts of failing to file a tax return despite having purportedly earned more than $400,000 over that period. The government argued that the IRS lost just over $80,000, and contend that he had not filed federal tax returns since 2000.

Reynolds, who did business under the assumed name of Reynolds Consulting, acted as a consultant to two notable Chicago figures, former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson and long-time politically connected developer Elzie Higgenbottom.

According to a government sentencing memo, Reynolds argued at trial that that he “did not believe these earnings constituted income, but rather represented advances for business expenses.”

In July, 2017 Reynolds filed an affidavit with the court containing a document titled “Partnership and Consulting Agreement.” That was purported to be an agreement between him and Higgenbottom that proved that the nearly $300,000 Higgebottom paid him “were advances for business expenses and not ‘income or compensation.’”

However, when Higgenbottom was shown the supposed agreement between him and Reynolds at trial, “Higginbottom testified that he had never seen it, had not signed it, and had not authorized anyone to draft it.”

In her sentencing recommendation to the judge, probation officer Jodi L. Halleran noted that “it appears there are two sides of Melvin J. Reynolds.” One side, she wrote, is “an altruistic, loving and involved father and long-time public servant,” while the other is “the self-centered person who appears to be under the impression that the laws enacted … do not apply to him.”

Halleran noted that Reynolds is unemployed and has been living in a cheap hotel room in the south suburbs, reliant on the support of family and friends, and suffering from several serious health conditions.

Prosecutors were unmoved by Reynolds travails, pointing to what they termed his demonstrated willingness to “engage in fraudulent, criminal conduct and his readiness to mislead and defy courts in an attempt to obstruct justice.”

Reynolds, they argued, “knew better.”

“He is a former United States Congressman. He is a Rhodes Scholar who has earned degrees from institutions around the world, including Oxford and Harvard. He has worked as a businessperson and consultant in Africa and the United States. He knew enough to know that he had earned substantial income as a consultant, and he knew enough to know that he should have filed tax returns reporting that income.”


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— Former Congressman Mel Reynolds headed back to prison  —