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Lyons' banking records detailed

The prosecution's last witness describes how millions of dollars flowed through accounts controlled by Bernice Edwards and Henry Lyons.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 1999


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David Kurash told jurors on Monday where the money went and how it was spent. [Times photo: Cherie Diez]
LARGO -- Prosecutors wheeled before the jury a dolly stacked with five boxes containing thousands of banking records.

After two weeks of testimony in the state racketeering trial of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons and his former aide Bernice Edwards, prosecutors Monday had come to their last witness -- the man who used those records to piece together the case against the pair.

David Kurash, a veteran financial investigator for State Attorney Bernie McCabe, led jurors through the complex financial world of Edwards and Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA.

Lyons, he said, broke the most sacred of corporate commandments -- he raided the convention to enrich himself and his friends.

"A president ... has no more right to dig in and take possession of corporate funds for his own personal use than the janitor does," Kurash said.

Kurash, 61, is an inveterate numbers-cruncher who ended a 25-year career as an investigator with the Internal Revenue Service in 1986 and has worked in McCabe's office for the last decade, heading a number of high-profile fraud investigations.

More than anyone else with the state, this is Kurash's case. He has worked it from the beginning, interviewed hundreds of people and reviewed 26 separate bank accounts.

Using large flow charts that summarized the flow of money into and then out of accounts controlled by Lyons and Edwards, Kurash provides a vital link in the state's case. Up to now, testimony has focused on the manner in which, prosecutors say, Lyons and Edwards swindled more than $4-million from corporations eager to do business with the convention.

Kurash showed circuit court jurors where the money went -- and how it was spent.

"The pattern is very obvious," Kurash said. "After these checks were deposited, then a series of checks would be written to Henry Lyons, Bernice Edwards, Brenda Harris."

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Defense attorneys Jay Hebert, left, and Grady Irvin examine five boxes of financial papers involving Rev. Henry Lyons and the National Baptist Convention. The documents were introduced by the state on Monday in the racketeering trial of Lyons and Bernice Edwards. [Times photo: Cherie Diez]
Harris, the NBC's former meetings director, was Lyons' "paramour," prosecutors say. She received $666,000 from the Baptist leader, Kurash said.

Edwards and Lyons each received $1-million, Kurash said. Another $42,377 went to Lyons' wife, Deborah Lyons, and a total of nearly $40,000 to two daughters, he said.

Much of Kurash's testimony focused on the largest of the accounts that Lyons controlled -- the Baptist Builder's Fund.

Kurash said more than $5-million flowed through the account during a two-year period. Lyons alone controlled the account that he opened shortly after winning the NBC presidency in late 1994.

"I regard it as a secret account," Kurash said, noting that Lyons never revealed it to convention auditors. "If a check register was kept, I've never seen it."

When Assistant State Attorney Jim Hellickson remarked that "few" records of the account existed, Kurash was quick to correct him. "To my knowledge, there are no records, not few. None," he said.

He reconstructed the account using microfilm records subpoenaed from the St. Petersburg bank where it was opened.

Of the hundreds of checks deposited into the account, Kurash said, he could recall only two made payable to Lyons himself. More often, checks were made payable to the convention. "That money belonged to the corporation," Kurash said.

Records show, he said, that money was, more often than not, used for anything but the convention's good deeds.

With the cash, Kurash said, Lyons paid his personal credit card bill, redecorated his house, made a payment on a Lexus automobile, spent nearly $1,700 at Dillard's and another $3,700 at Roberds furniture store and dropped $10,000 on a used Volvo for his daughter.

More than $1.6-million was funneled through a Milwaukee bank account called J.H. Associates, which was controlled by Edwards, he said. Much of that money was laundered back to Lyons, Kurash said.

But Edwards also lived the lavish life, he said, spending on everything from a $50,000 Range Rover to $23,566 in a luxury clothing store. Her bill at one jewelry store surpassed $115,000.

Defense attorneys get a chance to cross-examine Kurash today. They said Monday that Kurash worked with incomplete bank records that provide an inaccurate picture of Lyons' and Edwards' finances.

Once the state rests, the defense is expected to take a week to present its case.


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