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Reynolds’ act wore thin in Zimbabwe: Brown

Updated: March 20, 2014 6:52AM



Here’s my favorite part of the story about Mel Reynolds getting arrested this week in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe.

The Herald, which bills itself as Zimbabwe’s largest daily newspaper and broke the story of the arrest, quoted a “former aide” to Reynolds in Africa identified only as Sunny.

“[Reynolds] employed five of us, including a personal assistant and a driver,” Sunny told the paper after Reynolds was picked up for allegedly being in the possession of pornography.

To anyone who knows anything about Mel Reynolds, this is precious, and I’m not talking about the porn.

Here’s a guy who has never had two nickels of his own to rub together flaunting an entire entourage.

Reynolds had been in Zimbabwe since November, the newspaper reported, running up $24,500 in unpaid bills at two hotels while allegedly hiring models to come to his room to pose for homemade videos.

Reynolds, as I presume someone in power in Zimbabwe has finally figured out, is a con man. And a good one.

He conned his way into the U.S. Congress, which I should hasten to point out is no crime. He then conned some banks into lending him money he couldn’t repay, which cost him a federal prison sentence, but only because a conviction for having sex with an underage girl made it impossible for him to talk anyone into bailing him out.

Since his release from prison, Reynolds has suckered a succession of Chicago businessmen out of their dough, court records show.

And for the last several years, I think we can fairly deduce, he has been conning someone in Zimbabwe, someone who has lost their patience.

I don’t know who that is, but quite likely it’s someone close to the government of President Robert Mugabe taken in by Reynolds’ promises of bringing in U.S. business investors and getting the American government off Mugabe’s back.

Reynolds boasted about his African business pursuits when he announced in November 2012 that he was running to replace the disgraced Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who had replaced him after his own downfall.

It was the first any of us here had heard about Reynolds’ alleged success, and I challenged him at the time to prove it. He responded by offering to show me his passport, which he said would show he’d been overseas 14 times in the previous three years while arranging unspecified business deals.

It wasn’t that I doubted he’d made the trips. As I wrote at the time, I was just certain he was working some kind of angle on somebody.

The highly intelligent Reynolds has survived all these years on his guile and his smooth-talking ways, usually taking advantage of the greed of other people by convincing them that he can help connect them on some big score.

“He’s a very convincing guy,” one local businessman who fell for Reynolds’ baloney told me back in 2012.

In this case, Reynolds actually did have a “delegation” of U.S. investors that he took to Zimbabwe on at least two occasions, according to African newspaper accounts.

Reynolds no doubt promised them he had some kind of inside track with the African government because of his connections in Congress or maybe because of his famed status as a Rhodes scholar. (Part of the irony here is that Zimbabwe is the former Rhodesia, both nation and scholarship named for British colonialist Cecil Rhodes.)

The American businessmen were hoping to build a hotel and possibly a casino, news accounts show. The smell of the easy riches of a casino always brings out the get-rich-quick opportunists.

If he’s lucky, Zimbabwe officials will decide Reynolds is more trouble than he’s worth and deport him back to the U.S. One of the charges against him is that he has no valid visa, which I suppose makes Reynolds an illegal immigrant.

Maybe Reynolds could try to tell this story honestly someday, assuming he ever gets out of a Zimbabwe prison and assuming he’s capable of telling a story straight, which he’s never shown me.

He could call it “American Hustle, the African Version.” In Hollywood, they’d make him a hero.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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