“I don’t owe you an explanation as to why I meet with one person or another,” he says. “The U.S. government didn’t have any issues with what happened.”
Regarding Reynolds, Higginbottom says: “He was trying to uncover business opportunities for American businessmen. I paid him as a consultant to see if he could find business opportunities for us over there.”
Higginbottom declines to say how much he paid Reynolds: “You’ll find out when we go to trial.”
Wilson won’t talk about his Zimbabwe dreams, either, except to say, “We tried to make some things happen . . . It didn’t turn out right at all. . . . It’s a bad nightmare.”
Reynolds was an up-and-coming member of Congress, representing parts of Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs, until his 1995 sexual assault conviction for having sex with an underage campaign volunteer. While in prison, he was charged with federal bank fraud and campaign-finance violations and convicted, but President Bill Clinton commuted his sentence.
Higginbottom owns and manages thousands of apartments subsidized by the Chicago Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He collected more than $44 million in rent subsidies from HUD in 2015, records show.
Higginbottom also became a prolific campaign contributor and fund-raiser for former Mayor Richard M. Daley and other Democrats.
It’s unclear how Higginbottom connected with Reynolds, but he says the relationship ended in 2013, the year before Reynolds was arrested in Zimbabwe.
“Everybody’s entitled to a second chance,” Higginbottom says. “I have a lot of second-chance people working for me.”
Wilson — a businessman who ran for Chicago mayor in 2015 and then president last year — made much of his money investing in McDonald’s franchises and also created a nationally syndicated gospel TV show.
Twenty years ago, Wilson started Omar Inc., a company that distributes surgical gloves and other products. He teamed with Medline — a family-owned business run by brothers Charlie and Andy Mills and Jim Abrams, who’s married to their sister, Wendy Mills Abrams — and a group of investors in Zimbabwe, according to a Medline news release in April 2010 when Zimbabwe’s deputy prime minister, Arthur Mutambara, visited its headquarters in Mundelein.
Medline’s owners are friends of Emanuel, who was Obama’s chief of staff when the company was looking into doing business in Zimbabwe. The family has given more than $200,000 to Emanuel’s campaigns over the years, records show. Medline’s owners and employees gave more than $100,000 to Obama campaigns.
Medline owned the former site of Michael Reese Hospital at 29th and Ellis, which Daley agreed to have the city buy for $91 million as part of his failed plan to win the 2016 Summer Olympics. Chicago taxpayers have paid Medline more than $50 million but still owe $73 million in principal and millions more in interest. Emanuel has twice renegotiated the loan with Medline, lowering the interest rate, while City Hall looks for someone to buy the 37-acre site.
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