The effort by federal prosecutors could extend the Baptist leader's time behind bars by more than two years, a lawyer says.
By LARRY DOUGHERTY
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 16, 1999
TAMPA -- Federal prosecutors are appealing the four-year prison sentence given to the Rev. Henry J. Lyons in federal court last month.
The appeal, filed Wednesday, could possibly add two years or more to the time Lyons will spend behind bars, said his former defense attorney Jeff Brown.
Brown called the appeal "catastrophic."
"Everyone felt the sentence in federal court was fair," he said. "I thought the community wanted closure, and I know Dr. Lyons wanted closure. Now he has to come up with the funds to hire an attorney to handle the appeal. He's out of money. And he can't get any in prison."
Neither the federal prosecutor who filed the appeal, nor U.S. Attorney's Office officials were available for comment late Thursday. The filing comes close to the 30-day deadline for the government to file such an appeal.
Lyons, the former president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., was sentenced June 18 to four years and three months in federal prison for fraud and tax evasion.
The federal sentence runs concurrently with Lyons' 5 1/2-year sentence for racketeering and grand theft convictions in state court, and therefore will not extend his stay behind bars.
That could change though, depending on what issues federal prosecutors elect to appeal. The one-sentence notice filed Wednesday listed no specifics.
If an appellate court rules in the government's favor, Brown said, the federal sentence could grow to seven years or more and extend well past his state sentence.
"I don't know what their motivation is in doing this," Brown said. "Most of the people I talked to thought that (the judge's) sentence was extremely fair."
After the federal sentencing of Lyons, U.S. Attorney Charles R. Wilson told reporters that prosecutors were "a little disappointed." Wilson didn't rule out an appeal then.
That day, prosecutors made several unsuccessful arguments before U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. that would have lengthened the sentence under the complex calculation of federal sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutors asked the judge to enhance the sentence because Lyons abused a position of trust within the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. Adams said he couldn't do that because the convention's board of directors had not declared the convention a victim of Lyons' crimes.
Adams also declined to add about a $5-million federal Housing and Urban Development loan to the sum of money involved in Lyons' frauds. Doing so would have increased his sentence slightly.
And the judge granted only a partial sentence enhancement on the grounds Lyons was an organizer and leader of other church officials in the schemes. Brown said he and Lyons have exchanged letters in the month since his federal sentencing. But they have not spoken. Brown learned of the sentence appeal from a reporter Thursday night and had not yet told Lyons.
"He has been extremely happy, because he's had closure," Brown said.
Lyons is incarcerated at the Lowell Correctional Institution, about 10 miles north of Ocala. The prison also houses inmates convicted of serious felonies, such as murder, child abuse and car theft. Lyons works without pay as a clerk in a prison library.