Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Disgraced Former Illinois Congressman Tied To Gary Airport Contractor Arrested In Zimbabwe On Pornography Charges

Former Illinois Congressman Mel Reynolds (D) was forced from office in 1995 after he was charged and convicted of statutory rape of a 16-year old girl, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography. While in prison, he was slapped with additional charges related to the misuse of his campaign funds. President Bill Clinton showed him mercy and commuted his sentence to time served on his way out of office in 2001. Reynolds unsuccessfully sought a political comeback last year after his successor in Congress, Jesse Jackson, Jr., was forced from office following his admission that he had used hundreds of thousands of campaign money for his personal use. Now comes news out of Harare, Zimbabwe that Reynolds has been arrested on pornography charges in that country. From the Sun-Times:
The state-controlled newspaper, The Herald, reported that Reynolds was arrested Monday for allegedly possessing pornographic material and violating immigration laws . . .
The Herald said Reynolds was arrested by police detectives and immigration officials at a Harare hotel.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy, Karen Kelley, said the embassy could not comment as it was a private matter and the embassy did not did not have a privacy waiver.
The newspaper reported that Reynolds had accumulated hotel bills worth $24,500 which he has not yet paid.
So why in the world was Reynolds spending so much time in Zimbabwe? Well, it turns out that he's been there working on behalf of a very wealthy Chicago businessman with very close ties to President Barack Obama, Elzie Higginbottom, who has been working on business deals in the country despite the fact that the U.S. supposedly continues to impose sanctions against the Mugabe-run government in Zimbabwe that make such business deals unlawful. The Mail & Guardian reported last year on Higginbottom's efforts to land business deals in Zimbabwe, which were originally focused on the country's vast diamond mining business but later refocused on agriculture, tourism and real estate.

The Mail & Guardian said that Higginbottom, who it described as "a major Chicago fundraiser" for President Obama, had been "schmoozing senior Zanu-PF figures, including President Robert Mugabe" in an effort to win business deals from the government. The Mugabe government, in turn, was hoping Higginbottom could use his influence with the Obama administration to ease sanctions against the government.
Zimbabwe security forces apparently saw the participation of Americans in the Chiadzwa diamond fields near Marange as key to avoiding further action by a “hostile" US government to restrict the Zimbabwe diamond trade.
The security forces also hoped that a delegation of Chicago businessmen led by Higginbottom would lean on key members of the Obama administration to reverse, or ease, US sanctions against senior Zanu-PF figures.
The sanctions, administered by the US treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control (Ofac), prohibit US citizens from engaging in “any transactions with any person, entity or organisation" on a list of “specially designated nationals". . .

Although no evidence has come to light that Higginbottom has sealed business deals with Mugabe or Moyo directly, he is skating on thin ice . . .
Higginbottom confirmed this week that his company had “been seeking business opportunities in Zimbabwe for several years". 
“Our agenda has consistently and solely been related to business. We have no political agenda," he said.
But documented attempts by Higginbottom's team to negotiate a diamond-mining joint venture with a business team from the Zimbabwe ministry of defence rings alarm bells. Evidence gathered by civil rights groups and journalists in recent years suggests that the military has perpetrated human rights abuses in the Marange diamond fields, and that senior military figures have imposed themselves as silent shareholders in diamond mining companies . . .
“I would be very surprised if someone like Higginbottom, with the kind of money he has and the ambitious investments he proposes, can be in Zimbabwe for three or four years without having to transact with senior Zanu-PF government, security and intelligence officials subject to sanctions," said a long-time security and intelligence source working for the Movement for Democratic Change . . .
The article in the Guardian & Mail from last year specifically mentions work Reynolds was performing for Higginbottom in Zimbabwe, although Higginbottom sought to distance himself from Reynolds when asked about comments he made in his name praising the Mugabe government. The article also discussed the fact that the Rev. Jesse Jackson had accompanied Higginbottom on a trip to Zimbabwe in 2011:
Higginbottom's business dealings with Zimbabwe have been inextricably entwined with politics from the beginning, and he has associated himself with the major thawing of US-Zimbabwe relations this year.
He first met Mugabe on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly in New York in 2011, and sponsored a Doing Business in Zimbabwe Day in Washington, DC.
He then led a delegation of Chicago businesspeople to Zimbabwe in November 2011, where he met Mugabe again.
Disgraced former US congressman Mel Reynolds, who assumed the mantle of Higginbottom's spokesperson during that trip, told Zimbabwe state media that “mining, housing, insurance, farming, banking, medical and other" deals were under discussion.
In a wide-ranging interview with the state-owned Sunday Mail, Reynolds praised Mugabe as “one of the last lions of Africa that brought freedom to the people of this great continent".
He concluded with a statement: “I personally believe that sanctions should have never been imposed in the first place. I also believe that Zimbabwe can move forward despite sanctions."
Reynolds's position was also noted by Zimbabwean security forces in internal documents seen by the M&G.
Higginbottom distanced himself from the claims attributed to him in Zimbabwe in November 2011, saying that they were made in his name without his approval.
“We can assume no responsibility for comments he [Reynolds] made in Zimbabwe or elsewhere about his political/professional affiliations. Nor did we approve any representations he may have made about our objectives that were not true," said Higginbottom.
Reynolds could not be reached for comment.
Higginbottom's business outreach is not limited to Zimbabwe. His company, Eastlake Management & Development Corp., brokered a deal with the Gary International Airport last year for a new aircraft service facility at the airport. That contract has resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the airport authority by Gary Jet Center, which claims the deal provides an unfair business advantage by giving preferential treatment to B. Coleman, an aviation company operated by Higginbottom's company at the airport, in violation of federal and state regulations. The Gary Post-Tribune describes the facts surrounding that lawsuit:
The authority board voted last summer to let East Lake lease one existing hangar and to lease land to build two more hangers. The authority also reached a deal with East Lake for B. Coleman to take over management of the airport’s 60 smaller “T-hangars,” with B. Coleman keeping 20 percent of the revenue from those hangars.
The agreement, according to the lawsuit, allowed B. Coleman to start operating as a full-service company, called a fixed-base operator, that can sell fuel to airplanes and provide mechanics. It also gave the company nine months to meet certain regulations, required by federal law, such as having 35,000 gallons of fuel on hand in above-ground storage and having a building with at least 10,000 square feet of space.
B. Coleman currently operates from two double-wide trailers, does not have the fuel on hand and does not have a Federal Aviation Administration-certified mechanic, according to the motion filed by Gary Jet Center.
Along with giving B. Coleman a waiver from these regulations, Gary Jet Center, in its motion, says the airport authority has given B. Coleman other preferential treatment such as not having to pay certain fees or not forcing its customers to pay certain fees, all of which Gary Jet Center has to do.
The motion says Gary Jet Center has already lost one customer, who owns two planes, to B. Coleman because of this preferential treatment.
“While Gary Jet Center is not afraid of competition, it wants that competition to occur on a level playing field,” Wil Davis, president of Gary Jet Center, says in an affidavit attached to the motion.
Gary Jet Center notes in its filings that the airport had to make numerous assurances to the federal government in order to get funding, one of which says all fixed-base operators must be subject to the same rates, fees and other charges . . .
That deal with Higginbottom's company, incidentally, was brokered by John Clark, the controversial former head of the Indianapolis International Airport who was sent packing after bad media attention focused on his lavish travels and spending. Clark's Hoosier friends, including Lacy Johnson, helped him land a lucrative contract with the Gary Airport Authority. According to news reports, Clark earned about $166,000 in consulting fees last year before the airport authority inked a deal to award management of the airport to a Virginia-based company. What a corrupt, tangled web of people involved all around here. I can only imagine the sort of business dealings that are taking place up at Gary's airport these days with this cast of characters.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Guess why the convicted statutory rapist, who received clemency for a crime from The Machine's Bill Clinton, was in Zimbabwe, of all places....

Well, a rich Chicago businessman with very close ties to President Barack Obama, Elzie Higginbottom, who has been working on business deals in the country despite the fact that the U. S. supposedly continues to impose sanctions against the Mugabe-run government in Zimbabwe that make such business deals unlawful.

Add to that the fact that while it appears the law in Zimbabwe does not specifically prohibit child pornography, a person in possession of child pornography can be charged with public indecency which is punishable by a fine of $600, imprisonment up to six months, or both.

Anyone see why he was there?