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Witness: numbers fabricated

Grady Irvin Jr., attorney for the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, shows a document to Lynda Shorter as she testifies Wednesday. [Times photo: Brian Baer]


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 1999

LARGO -- Lynda Shorter thought the Rev. Henry J. Lyons simply possessed a great memory.

A Ministry in Question: more Times coverage of the Rev. Henry Lyons

There he was sitting at his desk, dictating to her the number of members of the National Baptist Convention USA in states across the nation without so much as a single piece of paper to aid his recollection, she said.

"I would say a state and he would give me a figure," Shorter testified Wednesday in the state racketeering trial of Lyons and his former aide Bernice Edwards. "At first I thought he was really intelligent. He had a really great memory."

But then Lyons, the convention's president, began to smirk and chuckle as he counted out the numbers, she said.

"I realized he was making it up," said Shorter, Lyons' former administrative assistant.

Shorter's testimony provides another link in the state's racketeering case against the St. Petersburg minister. Prosecutors portray Lyons as a man bent on creating a phony list of convention members to sell to large corporations.

One of them, the Globe Accident and Life Insurance Co. of Oklahoma City, would pay him $1-million for a list of the convention's supposed 8.5-million members. No real list existed, prosecutors say.

Globe, they say, eventually got a phony list -- and the state-by-state breakdown.

Shorter worked for Lyons at his Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church for a year ending in June 1996, when, she said, he fired her.

She is a member of a prominent St. Petersburg family, daughter of former City Council member Charles Shorter and Gibbs High School principal Barbara Shorter.

She testified in Circuit Court that Lyons' ability with numbers didn't stop with membership lists. At one time, Lyons dictated to her numbers for a report of the convention's finances. Shorter told investigators that he pulled numbers out of thin air, simply reading them to her from a lone piece of paper where he had scribbled figures.

Did she see any documentation or any log of NBC finances? Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery asked. Nothing, Shorter said.

Shorter said Lyons tightly controlled access to his church office, locking it whenever he traveled. Though checks were frequently mailed to Bethel, she said she never saw a ledger to track the cash.

"What was the name of your bookkeeper?" Loughery asked.

"There was no bookkeeper."

"What was the name of your accountant?"

"There was no accountant."

Lyons kept the only key to an office safe that contained what few financial records she did see, Shorter said.

As Shorter testified about Lyons' creating bogus state membership numbers, defense lawyer Grady Irvin Jr. objected to stop her testimony. Shorter turned angrily toward him.

"No," she protested. "That's the way it happened!"

In other testimony, a St. Petersburg jeweler said she sold Lyons and Edwards $42,000 in jewelry, including a dime-sized, $36,000 diamond ring. The jeweler, Judith Grim, said Edwards described it as an engagement ring.

Grim said Edwards told her they were getting married.


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