Ex-US Rep. Mel Reynolds wants to plead guilty in tax case

- Former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds said in a handwritten court filing posted Tuesday that he wants to plead guilty to misdemeanor federal charges of failing to file a tax return.

"I request to come to court at the earliest time possible to enter my plea of guilty," Reynolds wrote in the filing. A status hearing is scheduled for May 19. Reynolds is acting as his own attorney.

Reynolds was arrested April 11 at an Atlanta airport when he arrived from South Africa after failing to attend an earlier hearing in the tax case. U.S. District Judge John Darrah ordered him taken into custody. He is being held at a detention center in Kankakee, Illinois.

Reynolds said in the filing that since he has been jailed he has spent two days in a Kankakee hospital because of a heart condition. He also said he's been held in solitary confinement because of death threats against him stemming from his efforts in the 1990s against a street gang leader.

Reynolds also said that he's been in protective custody while in jail and that he is "in a position where it is impossible to prepare for trial" because he isn't allowed access to areas of the prison or computers that would allow him to do so.

Judges typically ask defendants if they are changing their pleas under duress and Reynolds' assertion that he has "no other choice" than to plead guilty could prompt Darrah to reject his change-of-plea request. Richard Kling, Reynolds' former attorney and still a stand-by counsel for the Democrat, also told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday he was surprised by the filing, saying Reynolds had told him recently he still wanted to go to trial.

Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said the office declined comment on Reynolds' filing.

Reynolds is charged with four counts of failing to file a federal income tax return. Each count has a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $250,000 fine.

A Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, Reynolds resigned from his 2nd Congressional District seat in 1995 after being convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a 16-year-old campaign worker. He served 2½ years in prison.

Later, he was convicted in federal court of concealing debts to obtain bank loans and diverting money intended for voter registration drives into his election campaign. He was sentenced to 6½ years in federal prison and had two years left when then-President Bill Clinton commuted his sentence in 2001.

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