Rep. Mel Reynolds was convicted Tuesday of having sex with a former campaign worker while she was underage, then trying to thwart the investigation.
Reynolds testified that he never had sex with campaign volunteer Beverly Heard when she was 16 and 17, and that they only fantasized about it over the phone. The black congressman said he was the target of a racially biased, politically motivated prosecution.
The most serious charge, criminal sexual assault, carries a mandatory penalty of at least four years in prison. He also was convicted of sexual abuse, child pornography and obstruction of justice.
Cook County Judge Fred Suria set a Sept. 12 hearing date for post-trial motions. No sentencing date was set.
Defense lawyer Ed Genson said they would appeal.
Prosecutors built their case against Reynolds, 43, on graphic taperecorded telephone calls in which Reynolds discusses sex acts with his teenage accuser and asks Heard to get him lewd photographs of a 15-year-old girl she made up during their taped conversations. The monthlong trial also focused on the conflicting testimony from the two-term Democrat and Heard, now 19.
After 13 nights in jail for refusing to testify, Heard emerged to tell the jury she had a consensual sexual affair with Reynolds beginning in 1992. But she said he doesn’t deserve prison and asked the jury to find him innocent.
Jurors deliberated more than 14 hours before convicting Reynolds on all counts. Several jurors said they were swayed both by Reynolds’ words on the tapes and by Heard’s testimony, especially her plea that he not go to jail.
The conviction does not automatically remove him from his seat: it strips him of his committee seniority and the House Ethics Committee opens its own investigation.
In Washington, Reynolds was the only freshman on the House Ways and Means Committee and became a protege of its then-chairman, Chicago Democrat Dan Rostenkowski. But troubling questions emerged even in his first months in office. Reporters discovered Reynolds had failed to make good on thousands of dollars in personal and political debts, and that his campaign committee failed to report thousands of dollars in contributions.
The case was just one of several accusations against Reynolds.
In May he was charged in a separate indictment on witness tampering and obstruction of justice for trying to influence witnesses in the sex case. It is unclear when he might face trial on those charges.