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Cost of Lyons investigation over $95,000

The estimate of costs by the state attorney's office does not include the salaries of prosecutors and investigators.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 1999


LARGO -- One of the highest-profile criminal cases in recent Pinellas County history is now officially one of the costliest.

The state's investigative costs in the prosecution of Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons total at least $95,000, according to figures released Wednesday by State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office.

Since all costs are not yet in, that number may climb, though it is not expected to increase significantly.

"I'm sure it's one of the costliest investigations we've had in a good long period of time," said Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery.

At Lyons' sentencing next Wednesday on his racketeering and grand theft convictions, prosecutors are expected to ask that Lyons be ordered to pay those costs.

But Lyons' attorneys say the St. Petersburg minister is broke. And with Lyons facing a state prison sentence of between three and eight years, they say, McCabe's office is unlikely to recoup anything.

"I don't think there is any realistic chance Dr. Lyons can ever pay that," said Denis de Vlaming, one of Lyons' attorneys in the state case.

The same jury that convicted Lyons on Feb. 27 also acquitted co-defendant Bernice Edwards of racketeering.

Lyons also has pleaded guilty to five charges of fraud and tax evasion in federal court. The federal government has seized most of the minister's assets, which would be used to cover any tax debt Lyons owes.

And in both the state and federal cases, Lyons could be ordered to pay restitution to his corporate victims, which could amount to millions of dollars.

"So $95,000 seems like a pretty paltry sum," said de Vlaming.

Among the state's investigative costs: $31,451 for the cost of copying and collecting bank records; $16,837 for copies of depositions and trial transcripts; $14,812 for the cost of prosecutors and investigators traveling to interview witnesses; and about $30,000 for witness travel and hotel costs.

What is not included in the total are the salaries of any of the prosecutors or investigators who worked on the case for more than a year.

"That cost was significant to us because the lawyers who prosecuted this case are all top-flight, supervisory attorneys," McCabe said.

But McCabe said he never includes salary when asking a judge to order a defendant to pay costs because "I kind of feel that the lawyers were going to be working anyway."

Asked if he realistically ever expected Lyons to repay his office, McCabe said, "Yeah, there's always a chance."

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