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Edwards to remain free on bail

Bernice V. Edwards, former aid to the Rev. Henry Lyons, is accused of violating probation following her conviction on tax evasion.

By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2002


Bernice V. Edwards, former aid to the Rev. Henry Lyons, is accused of violating probation following her conviction on tax evasion.

TAMPA -- A federal judge allowed convicted tax evader Bernice V. Edwards to remain free on $25,000 bail Wednesday pending the outcome of a hearing on allegations that she violated her probation.

Edwards, a one-time aide to the Rev. Henry Lyons and former publicist for his National Baptist Convention USA, said little during the 10-minute hearing. Afterward, she refused to comment.

In court documents filed in May, Edwards' federal probation officer accused her of violating her probation six times.

Edwards allegedly posed as the minister of a church to buy $6,000 in furniture for an apartment she fraudulently leased in someone else's name. Authorities said she also failed to regularly pay her $120 a month in restitution for back taxes and borrowed $3,700 from a business owner in Akron, Ohio, saying she needed the cash for her daughter's education.

Her probation forbade Edwards from soliciting any loan or line of credit.

Her lawyer, Timothy Fitzgerald, said Edwards, 45, who lives in Wisconsin, was not taken into custody when the allegations arose last month. Instead, she was allowed to appear at Wednesday's hearing on a summons. He said he was satisfied with the judge's ruling.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Jenkins ordered Edwards to provide documention of any prescription drugs she is taking and to submit to drug testing if corrections officials deem it necessary.

Fitzgerald said Edwards is taking prescription drugs for an illness he would not disclose. She spent a week in a hospital before making the trip to Tampa for the court hearing, he said.

The judge also ordered Edwards to enroll in mental health treatment.

Edwards will have to return to Tampa in the next few months for a hearing into the allegations. If she is found to have violated her probation, she could face more prison time or continued probation.

In March 1999, Edwards pleaded guilty to two tax evasion charges for failing to report more than $500,000 in income from the National Baptist Convention USA from 1995 and 1996. She was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Edwards served 13 months in a federal prison in Indiana before moving to a halfway house in Akron. She spent five months there and started working at a job-training program.

On July 28, with three months off for good behavior, Edwards was released from federal custody to begin serving three years of probation.

-- Graham Brink can be contacted at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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