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Witness recalls boss's love for Lyons

A former aide of Brenda Harris says Harris helped Lyons compile a fraudulent members' list.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 3, 1999


LARGO -- It was Renee Fagans' first day of work for the National Baptist Convention USA in April 1995 when, she said, her boss and friend Brenda Harris confided a salacious office secret.

photo
Renee Fagans testifies Tuesday. [Times photo: Brian Baer]
photoNBC general secretary Roscoe Cooper testified he did not sign documents bearing his name.
Harris was in love.

"She was giving me an overview of what she did," Fagans testified Tuesday in the state racketeering trial of convention president Henry J. Lyons and his former aide Bernice Edwards. "Her exact words were, "I'm having an affair with the president.' "

Fagans, who worked a year for the NBC in Nashville, Tenn., said Harris "admitted Dr. Lyons was married, but it was kind of an insignificant relationship" he had with his wife, Deborah Lyons.

One day, she said Harris told her, Lyons would divorce his wife and marry her.

Harris is one of the keys to the racketeering case against Lyons, who prosecutors say funneled $456,264 in ill-gotten funds to Harris from 1994 to 1997.

Prosecutors say she is one of several women who had affairs with Lyons, women they say fueled his thirst for money he swindled from corporations that wanted to do business with his convention.

Harris is not charged in state court, although she faces charges with Lyons in federal court, including bank fraud and money laundering.

Fagans was the closest aide to Harris, who served as the executive director of the NBC's Office of Conventions and Meetings. Fagans said Harris "confided lots of things to me."

photo
The Rev. Henry Lyons and his wife, Deborah, review a newspaper article about the trial Tuesday. [Times photo: Brian Baer]
Fagans said she met Harris about eight years before when she worked for a public relations company Harris operated in San Diego. She eventually left that job but rejoined Harris in 1995 as her assistant at the NBC.

Fagans said Harris told her she fell in love with Lyons immediately. "She was just taken with him," Fagans said. "She was just very, very impressed by his mind, his power and his influence nationally. She was just a woman in love."

As Fagans testified, Mrs. Lyons sat emotionless in the courtroom. During a break, Mrs. Lyons said of Fagans' testimony, "It doesn't bother me. I love him and will work through this."

Lyons and Harris acknowledged the affair in September 1998, and Harris apologized to Mrs. Lyons.

Lyons leased a house for Harris in Nashville and eventually paid to help her buy a luxury home in a suburb of the city, prosecutors say.

Fagans said Lyons kept his clothing at Harris' home, including "clothes she bought him for playtime."

Lyons, she said, lavished gifts on Harris, once buying her a full-length mink coat with matching hat during a trip to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Fagans said she knew of Lyons' efforts to create a list of the convention's supposed 8.5-million members. At one point, she said, he asked Harris to provide names and addresses to put on a list he was compiling.

But Fagans said it was clear Lyons didn't care where the names came from or even whether they were NBC members. Fagans said she helped Harris collect addresses from business cards they had gathered over the years and other sources. They filled a plastic garbage bag with their work and sent it to Lyons in Florida, Fagans said.

"She said it would take way too long to type it up," said Fagans, who said she knew there was no real list of convention members.

Defense attorneys portray Fagans as a disgruntled former employee out to get Lyons and Harris. At times, Fagans seemed eager to quickly utter damaging statements before defense attorneys could muster an objection.

Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer stopped her at one point and explained what an objection meant. "That means shut up," the judge said.

In a deposition, Fagans said she does not dislike Harris and left her NBC job in Nashville simply to rejoin family in California.

In other testimony, NBC general secretary Roscoe Cooper testified that he did not sign documents that, among other things, allowed Lyons to obtain a $300,000 loan from a bank and get a mortgage for a $700,000 Tierra Verde home.

Prosecutors say Lyons forged Cooper's signatures on the documents.
-- Times photographer Brian Baer contributed to this report.

 

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