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Ex-U.S. Representative Reynolds Convicted, Fined in Zimbabwe

Former U.S. congressman Mel Reynolds (C) arrives at the Harare Magistrates court, Feb. 20, 2014.
Former U.S. Congressman Melvin Reynolds was Friday convicted of contravening Zimbabwe's immigration laws on his own plea of guilty and fined US$100. But the magistrate dismissed charges against the former U.S. Representative of possessing pornography.

The former Congressman, arrested Monday for disregarding the country's immigration laws and allegedly possessing pornographic material, pleaded guilty to contravening the Immigration Act. His visa to remain in Zimbabwe expired December 10 but the he remained in the country regardless.

In mitigation, Reynolds' attorney Arthur Gurira told the court his client was a first offender in Zimbabwe. He urged the court to be lenient.

Gurira said Reynolds complied with the country's immigration laws for the 17 times that he has visited Zimbabwe, adding this time around, he had failed due to ill-health. The counsel said Reynolds failed to renew his visa after suffering a mild strike at a time he intended to extend his stay.

Gurira said Reynolds, who appeared in court in the khaki prison garb, limping and with a bandaged left toe, had no relatives in Zimbabwe, adding that confining him to a custodial sentence would not be a good idea.

After mitigation, Magistrate Tendai Mahwe then ordered Reynolds to pay a $100 fine or serve five days in prison following which prison officials should surrender him to the immigration department for immediate deportation to the United States.

In the case of possessing pornographic material, Reynolds through his lawyer, successfully challenged his placement on remand.

In his submissions, Gurira said the state should have secured authority to prosecute Reynolds from the Attorney General’s office in terms of the country's laws but went ahead to arraign him before getting such authority.

Prosecutor Sharon Mashavira then requested the court to adjourn the matter to Monday to allow the state to obtain the authority but this was turned down by Magistrate Mahwe who dismissed the charge and ordered Reynolds be removed from remand as the state had failed to comply with the law.

In the 1990s, Reynolds held a Chicago-area seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and was considered a rising star in the U.S. Democratic Party. But he was forced to resign his seat in 1995 after being convicted of sexual assault, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography.

While in jail in the United States, he was also convicted of bank and campaign fraud. His sentence was commuted by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

The 62-year-old Reynolds made attempts to win back his congressional seat in 2004 and 2013 but lost primary elections both times.

In Zimbabwe, he reportedly tried to attract investors for a hotel project which is still to materialize.

U.S. Embassy officials attended the proceedings Friday. The also brought Reynolds some food though they declined to speak to the media, citing privacy issues.