Former congressman Mel Reynolds attempted to turn the tables on federal prosecutors in his tax evasion case Tuesday, accusing a key government witness of paying bribes to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, in hopes of landing a lucrative diamond mining operation in the central African nation.
The drama came on the second day of Reynolds’ own trial, where he is accused of failing to pay taxes on hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.
Much of that income came from Chicago real estate tycoon Elzie Higginbottom, who testified Tuesday that he took Reynolds on as a consultant, because he knew he had “fallen on hard times.”
Higginbottom testified that he entered into an agreement to pay Reynolds $10,000 monthly to develop business in Africa.
“Out of that, he would pay his expenses,” he said. “And what remained would be his compensation.”
Reynolds insists the payments from Higginbottom and Chicago businessman Willie Wilson were only intended to cover his expenses, and thus, he had insufficient income during the period to have to pay taxes. He makes that contention despite testimony Tuesday from an IRS agent, who said during the period in question, Reynolds received in excess of $443,000.
The former congressman is acting as his own attorney. And when it was his turn to cross-examine Higginbottom, his former benefactor, he attempted to flip the script.
“Did you have a deal with Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe for a diamond concession?” Reynolds asked.
“No,” said Higginbottom, “I did not!”
“Did you send money to me with the intent of bribing a high level official in Zimbabwe?” he asked.
“No,” Higginbottom insisted.
Reynolds persisted, naming a government official in Zimbabwe who he said was on the receiving end of a check from Higginbottom.
“I don’t recall,” the Chicago real estate magnate insisted.
Reynolds then showed Higginbottom a check ledger which seemed to indicate the check. At most, however, Higginbottom conceded he was present at a meeting in Washington in the office of Congressman Bobby Rush, where a Zimbabwean mining official was present.
Of course, the trial is about Reynolds, not Higginbottom. And at the end of the day, the government presented a witness from a Chicago title loan company, who testified Reynolds had taken out a loan application stating that his consulting arrangement paid him in excess of $6500 a month.
Testimony is to resume Wednesday morning. When the defense begins, it is expected Reynolds may call himself as a witness.
Published at 4:59 PM CDT on Sep 26, 2017 | Updated at 6:59 PM CDT on Sep 26, 2017