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Report: Lyons to step down

In an interview to air tonight, the minister tells ABC News that it is time for the needs of the National Baptist Convention to come first.

By Compiled from staff, wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 1999

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rev. Henry Lyons, convicted of racketeering and grand theft, says in an upcoming television interview that he plans to resign as president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., ABC News reported Sunday.

In an interview with Connie Chung for 20/20 Monday, Lyons said he will step down, even if the church group's board of trustees doesn't ask him.

"I think it's best," Lyons told Chung in the interview conducted Saturday in St. Petersburg.

"The emphasis now must be on the church, on the convention, on the programs and mission and ministries of the convention. I feel that it's . . . time for me to let that be a priority."

There was no immediate response to a pager message seeking confirmation of the ABC report left Sunday evening for Lyons' attorney, Grady Irvin. And there was no answer to phone calls made to the St. Petersburg church, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist, where Lyons is pastor.

ABC released excerpts Sunday from the interview, to be broadcast at 8 p.m. tonight on WFTS-Ch. 28.

Lyons, 57, was convicted Feb. 27 in state court on racketeering charges of swindling more than $4-million from corporations seeking to do business with the convention. He also was convicted of grand theft for stealing nearly $250,000 donated by the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith to rebuild burned black churches in the South.

Prosecutors said Lyons and his co-defendant, Bernice Edwards, duped companies by promising a membership mailing list that did not exist and then went on lavish spending sprees -- buying a diamond ring, a waterfront home, a time-share condominium, several luxury cars and expensive clothing.

Edwards was acquitted of racketeering. Lyons will be sentenced March 31 in the state case. He faces 3 to 8 years in prison under sentencing guidelines.

In a separate federal case, Lyons faces 54 charges of extortion, tax evasion, conspiracy and fraud.

Under a proposed plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Lyons would plead guilty to at least some of the 54 charges in return for a sentence of between 70 and 90 months, according to attorney Jay Herbert, who represented Lyons in the state case. Any agreement is subject to approval by the federal judge overseeing the case.

Herbert said if a plea agreement is reached, it would take place Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

In the ABC interview with Chung, Lyons apologized for his actions.

"I've spent the last 18, 19, 20 months, repenting, repenting, repenting . . . over and over again," he said.

"I have said to my God: "I am sorry.' You gave (me) the opportunity of my life, one that I sought for all my life. You blessed me and I cursed you back."

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