Visibly exhausted, former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds pleaded not guilty in a Zimbabwe court on Wednesday to charges of possessing pornography and must spend another night in jail before he can apply for bail.
Reynolds was arrested at a Harare hotel Monday and has already spent two nights in jail. He will appear in court again on Thursday for his bail hearing. Also on Thursday, he will be asked to enter a plea on a separate charge of breaking Zimbabwe’s immigration laws.
Wearing a dark suit and open-necked white shirt with no tie, Reynolds, who lost his seat representing Illinois almost 20 years ago after being convicted of statutory rape, smiled as he walked past journalists’ cameras into the courthouse. He told reporters he had received no assistance from the U.S. Embassy.
Reynolds, who is 62, allegedly overstayed his visa and brought several Zimbabwean models and other women to his hotel room where he took photographs and videos, according to Zimbabwe’s state-controlled newspaper, The Herald.
The state alleges that Reynolds had images of naked men and women on his iPhone 4S. In court documents, investigating officer George Garauzive said he discovered the photos when asked by immigration officials who arrested Reynolds to go through his phone.
Reynolds’ lawyer said he wants his client to plead guilty.
“I will be advising him to plead guilty to all charges because they are not serious. For violating immigration laws Reynolds faces possible deportation and, for possession of pornography, he will be fined,” Gurira said.
He said Reynolds won’t be imprisoned for the pornography charges because “they were in his possession and he never published them.”
Reynolds appeared tired and at times confused in court. His lawyer Arthur Gurira asked the magistrate to allow him to sit during the proceedings, usually held while standing. After the hearing, Reynolds struggled to get to his feet to leave the courtroom for the holding cells.
His lawyer asked if he could receive medical attention. He told the court however that Reynolds had not been ill-treated by the police during his two nights’ stay in jail.
Mambo Madimutsa, a Zimbabwean who claims to be Reynolds’ former bodyguard, told reporters outside the courthouse that he and four others employed by Reynolds had reported him to the immigration officials and alerted state media reporters because Reynolds owed them over $22, 000 in unpaid salaries since August.
“We had to report him to immigration and call the Herald because we went for seven months without getting paid. We even spent Christmas with no money. But you will see him giving girls money,” he said.
He said he hopes Reynolds will pay them before he leaves Zimbabwe.
“He told us, in front of the officials, he is not going to pay us for reporting him to immigration,” Madimutsa said.
In Zimbabwe, Reynolds reportedly helped draw investment to hotel and office projects and is also known for his opposition to U.S. sanctions against President Robert Mugabe.
Reynolds, a Harvard graduate and former Rhodes scholar, was once viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party. He 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.
He made unsuccessful runs to regain a seat in Congress in 2004 and in 2013.