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Lyons witness:
Fund was no secret

Whether the Rev. Henry Lyons will testify remains uncertain as the defense nears the end of its case.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 1999


photo
CPA John Magliano tells how checks moved from account to account. [Times photo: Brian Baer]
LARGO -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons wrote more than 2,600 checks from the Baptist Builder's Fund, many of them going to members of his own National Baptist Convention USA. He made another 7,000 deposits.

That's nearly 10,000 transactions in an account described as a "secret" slush fund by prosecutors in Lyons' state racketeering trial.

A secret fund? That just doesn't make sense, a financial expert testified Wednesday.

"For an account to be secret would mean that you try to keep its existence from anyone," said John Magliano Jr., a certified public accountant who is the defense's chief financial expert.

Lyons transacted so much business through the Baptist Builder's Fund, Magliano said, his intent could never have been to hide it. "It's not logical," he said.

Magliano is expected to be one of the last witnesses for the defense in the racketeering trial of Lyons and his former aide Bernice Edwards. With the defense expected to rest within days, one question loomed.

Will Lyons take the stand?

Defense attorney Jay Hebert said the St. Petersburg minister wants to testify, but his attorneys insist the decision still has not been made.

If he does testify, Lyons will have to do so without a guarantee of protection from what promises to be a prolonged cross-examination by prosecutors.

A judge refused to immediately rule on a defense request to limit prosecutors' cross-examination.

Lyons' defense attorneys say that should Lyons testify, they would not question him about all elements of the state's case against him. By limiting their own questioning, lawyers say, prosecutors should not be allowed to question Lyons on anything outside the scope of that testimony.

photo
Lyons listens to proceedings Wednesday.
[Times photo:
Brian Baer]

But Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer said she must first hear Lyons' testimony before deciding how much prosecutors can ask him.

If Lyons testifies at all, it would be Friday.

Meanwhile Wednesday, Magliano, the defense financial expert, testified that Lyons' Baptist Builder's Fund received deposits totaling $1.43-million from churches and state Baptist conventions from late 1994 to July 1997.

But he said convention-related expenses during the same period totaled $2.4-million.

"I found that more money was spent than collected . . . to run the business of the convention," he said.

Often, Magliano said, Lyons paid convention bills from his own personal accounts.

Lyons and Edwards are accused of swindling millions from corporations eager to market everything from funeral plots to credit cards to convention members. The money, prosecutors say, financed a lavish life of jewelry and luxury homes, including the $700,000 Tierra Verde home Lyons and Edwards bought together.


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


Magliano said Lyons actually received little of the corporate money. Much of the cash went to third parties such as Edwards, he said. And once Lyons paid the difference between deposits to the Baptist Builder's Fund and NBC expenses, Magliano said Lyons' income was small -- just $150,496.36.

Magliano also said the convention's bookkeeping was often sloppy as Lyons paid NBC bills from whatever accounts had the available cash.

Assistant State Attorney Bob Lewis began his cross-examination by taking a long look at a defense chart that showed how checks to cover convention expenses flowed between various convention accounts.

"I don't see any checks that went to jewelers or for the Tierra Verde house . . . or the ones that went in his pocket," Lewis said.

"I'm not saying there's not other money," Magliano said. "The personal stuff we all know about."

 

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