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Lyons will get prison closer to his family

The convicted former Baptist leader will be moved from a Lowell prison to one in Polk County. Whether he sought the transfer is uncertain.

By WILLIAM LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, serving 51/2 years for racketeering and grand theft, will be transferred to a Polk County prison, where he will be closer to friends and family in Pinellas County.

Lyons is scheduled to be moved from a prison in Lowell, outside of Ocala, to a facility near Lakeland, a quicker drive from his St. Petersburg home.

Debbie Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections, could not say when Lyons would be moved.

"It would be weeks or it could be months," she said. "It might depend on the number of available beds" at the Polk Correctional Institution, where he is expected to be moved.

Buchanan could not say whether Lyons had requested the transfer or if corrections officials had decided to move him.

"Anytime we can get an inmate closer to home, we try to do it," Buchanan said.

Inmates are not eligible for a transfer until they serve at least six months of their sentence without any disciplinary problems.

Lyons "has done everything we've asked him to do without any problems," Buchanan said.

Clearwater attorney Denis de Vlaming, who has represented Lyons, said he asked Lyons about six months ago whether the minister wanted his attorneys to request a transfer. At that time, de Vlaming said, Lyons indicated that he wasn't ready to move.

"He was rather well settled," de Vlaming said. "The people around him were rather nice to him. So he didn't want to move."

Since Lyons began serving his term in March 1999, he had worked in a prison library. But Lyons has since changed job assignments and is now working in the prison yard in Lowell, doing everything from picking up litter to weeding flower beds.

"He does whatever we need him to do," said Buchanan, who was unsure whether Lyons requested the job transfer or was simply transferred by prison officials.

A Pinellas circuit jury convicted Lyons in February 1999 after a six-week trial. The former president of the National Baptist Convention USA was accused of swindling millions of dollars from corporations, using the good name and reputation of the convention.

He is scheduled for release in 2004.

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