Reynolds and his twin brother, Marvin Jerry Reynolds, were born in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, sons of the Rev. J. J. Reynolds and Essie Mae Prather. Reynolds moved to Chicago as a child. He received a Associate of Arts from one of the City Colleges of Chicago, and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Harvard University, with a M.P.A.. He also won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford's program Lincoln College, received a (LL.B.).
Before entering politics, Reynolds worked as an assistant professor of political science at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois. He also founded the Community Economic Development and Education Foundation.
Reynolds was unsuccessful in his 1988 and 1990 campaigns against Congressman Gus Savage. However, Reynolds defeated Savage in 1992. He served in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 1995.
In August 1994, Reynolds was indicted for sexual assault and criminal sexual abuse for engaging in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer that began during the 1992 campaign. Despite the charges, he continued his campaign and was re-elected that November; he had no opposition. Reynolds initially denied the charges, which he claimed were racially motivated. On August 22, 1995, he was convicted on 12 counts of sexual assault, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography. He resigned his seat on October 1 of that year.
Reynolds was sentenced to five years in prison, thus he expected to be released in 1998. However, in April 1997 he was convicted on 15 unrelated counts of bank fraud and lying to SEC investigators. These charges resulted in an additional sentence of 78 months in federal prison. Reynolds served all of his first sentence, and served 42 months in prison for the later charges. At that point, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentence for bank fraud. However, Reynolds had never applied for presidential clemency, which is the first step to be considered for a presidential pardon. As a result, Reynolds was released from prison and served the remaining time in a halfway house.
- Rudin, Ken (2007-06-06). "The Equal-Opportunity Culture of Corruption". NPR.org. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10770284. Retrieved 2007-07-29.
- Clinton Commutation Grants, January 2001, University of Pittsburgh Law (http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/pardons6b.htm)
- Interview with Mel Reynolds, Chicago Reporter, January 2001 (http://www.chicagoreporter.com/2001/1-2001/sentencing/Mel.htm)
- Politics1 - US Political News Blog