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Flier rocks Bethel flock

At least one church member walks out after the new pastor denies allegations of his arrest.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- A flier distributed at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church after services Sunday announced that the Rev. Joaquin Marvin, the church's new leader who has admitted a criminal past, was arrested Friday on outstanding, decade-old charges.

The flier provided a phone number for the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, where officials confirmed a man named Joaquin Marvin was arrested Friday on two outstanding warrants from 1991 for probation violations and was released on $5,000 bond.

The flier urged church members to "call for yourself, so that you won't have to read it in the St. Petersburg Times first."

However, Marvin, who replaced the imprisoned Henry Lyons at the church's helm, told members at Sunday services that he wasn't arrested. He called it a case of mistaken identity, said church member Yvonne Marshall.

"He said, "Don't believe everything you see in the papers. Don't believe everything you hear. You can barely believe what you see, because sometimes that's not true,' " Marshall said.

She said that she didn't believe him, and that she walked out after his comments.

Marvin did not return phone calls from the Times Sunday, and a Times reporter was turned away at the church and told Marvin had no comment. One man who refused to let a reporter talk to Marvin said there was no arrest Friday.

Sgt. Tony Bain, public information officer for the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, said his agency did arrest a Joaquin Marvin on Friday on one charge of violating probation and one charge of violating community control.

The Times reported two weeks ago that the Rev. Marvin, who is preparing to move from Escambia County, had those same two outstanding warrants for his arrest, dating from 1991, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the warrants had somehow never been entered into the statewide computer system.

The Rev. Marvin, 35, was sentenced to two years of community control in 1991 for forgery. Records from the FDLE indicate that he also was arrested several times between 1986 and 1991 on charges that included shoplifting, assault and possession of crack and marijuana.

But several details were not available Sunday from Escambia County, including identifying information such as a Social Security number. There is also some confusion over whether Marvin's birth date is the same as that of the man who was arrested.

Those details, including who posted the bond and whether the Joaquin Marvin arrested turned himself in or was sought by deputies, should be available today. Escambia County officials also provided a jail photo of the arrested man, but it couldn't be determined Sunday whether it was the Rev. Marvin.

According to church members who attended services Sunday, Marvin told the congregation he would send a certified letter to several church deacons, and the letter would resolve any remaining doubts about the incident. It was unclear who the certified letter was from or how it would clarify the confusion.

It also was unclear who created and distributed the flier at the church Sunday.

The church voted earlier this month to oust Lyons, once head of the largest black church organization in the country, as pastor of the Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church. Lyons is serving a prison sentence for racketeering and grand theft.

Members voted 200-49 to remove Lyons and replace him with Marvin, an associate minister at Greater Union Baptist Church in Pensacola. They praised him for being open about his past criminal life, and one longtime member called Marvin "honorable."

After a protracted and divisive battle during the investigation of Lyons, longtime church member Maggie Davis said she is concerned about Marvin's effect on her church.

"I hate to see us going through the same thing over again," Davis said.

Last week, word spread among Bethel members that law enforcement authorities showed up at the St. Petersburg church on twice last week to arrest Marvin but he wasn't there.

Davis said she called Escambia authorities Sunday morning to check that a Joaquin Marvin had been arrested there. She said she is not sure what to think about Marvin's explanation of mistaken identity.

"That's going to be a very, very rare coincidence," Davis said.

-- Staff writer Waveney Ann Moore contributed to this report.

Recent coverage and opinion

Church can take steps to rebuild trust (December 13, 2000)

Pastor calls for unity in flock (December 11, 2000)

Lyons' replacement has outstanding warrants (December 5, 2000)

Bethel members praise choice for new minister (December 3, 2000)

Church ousts Lyons as pastor (December 2, 2000)

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