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Bernice Edwards accused of shoplifting

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 1999


Just weeks before her trial on a state racketeering charge, Bernice Edwards visited a suburban Milwaukee store and stole a pair of $140 sunglasses, police say.

Edwards, 42, visited L'Image Skin Spa north of her hometown of Milwaukee on Dec. 23, police said. They said a clerk noticed the sunglasses missing after Edwards and a younger woman she was with left the empty store.

Police issued her a citation for retail theft on Tuesday, though they did not charge her criminally. If convicted of the municipal violation, she could be fined $652.

The racketeering trial of Edwards and Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons is expected to begin Monday. The pair is charged with siphoning millions into secret bank accounts to fund a lavish lifestyle that included luxury homes, jewelry and expensive automobiles.

Lyons is president of the National Baptist Convention USA, and Edwards, who has a previous embezzlement conviction on her record, is the group's former public relations director.

Police in Glendale, where the store is located, would not release their report of the retail theft citation until Edwards' first court appearance on Feb. 4. Edwards could not be reached for comment, and her attorneys declined to comment Wednesday.

An article published Wednesday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which had access to the police report, gave this account:

A salesclerk became suspicious of Edwards and the unidentified second woman, who were the only customers in the store, because both women wore coats, scarves and hats even though the store was quite warm.

The clerk said the younger woman persistently tried to distract her and then asked to buy some lipstick. At the time, Edwards was standing near a sunglasses display, the clerk said.

While the clerk rang up the sale for the lipstick for the other woman, she asked Edwards for her name and address for a store mailing list. Edwards gave her correct Milwaukee address but said her name was Bree Jones, an alias she has used frequently.

After the two women left, the clerk said she noticed that the sunglasses were missing from the display. She followed the pair to the parking lot and got the license number of the car Edwards drove.

Police went to Edwards' home, but she refused to let them in or talk without her attorney present. The district attorney's office reviewed the case but declined to file a criminal charge.

Officials of the district attorney's office could not be reached for comment.

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