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Forgive, forget is forsaken for Lyons

State prosecutors point to a 1991 apology as evidence the disgraced minister doesn't deserve a reduced sentence.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 6, 1999


LARGO -- State prosecutors say they see little evidence that the Rev. Henry J. Lyons is repentant and deserving of a reduction of a 5 1/2-year prison term for his racketeering and grand theft convictions.

Lyons' attorneys have filed a petition in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court asking a judge to lower his sentence because the St. Petersburg minister is "truly repentant" and has learned a lesson from his misdeeds.

As they try to cast doubt on Lyons' expressions of remorse, prosecutors this week filed with the court parts of a document never before publicly released.

The document: an excerpt from Lyons' 1991 apology to charges of bank fraud.

"Often history is the best predictor of the future," Assistant State Attorney Bob Lewis said in court papers released Thursday. "Henry Lyons has been "repentant' before."

In 1991, before Lyons became president of the National Baptist Convention USA, he faced a federal investigation of charges he obtained an $85,000 bank loan by forging certificates of deposit used as collateral for the loan.

Lyons entered a pretrial intervention program that he completed successfully, avoiding trial, a possible prison sentence and any criminal record.

As he sought entrance in the intervention program, Lyons wrote to the court, "It was a bad case of misjudgment or bad judgment on my part. I have suffered much because of committing this wrong. "I am truly sorry for making the terrible mistake. It haunts me daily, just the fact that I am outside of the Law is enough to cause me a great sorrow. I have ask(ed) my god to forgive me, and He has. I have ask(ed) the bank and the state of Florida to forgive me, and I trust that they will. I have ask(ed) my wife to forgive me, and she has.

"I am not proud of the fact that I have been in any kind of trouble with the law."

The words, prosecutors say, echo the apologies that came this year in both state and federal court as Lyons faced sentencing on fraud and racketeering convictions unrelated to the 1991 charges.

The apologies of 1991, they say, are as insincere as the apologies of 1999.

"One should not be surprised to see such an attempt to utilize this "repentance' again," Lewis said in court papers. "And, once again, his focus is on mistakes, bad judgments and other excuses rather than his own greed, avarice, ambition and willingness to do or say anything to obtain his desires."

A hearing on Lyons' request for a lesser sentence is scheduled for Aug. 18 before Judge Susan Schaeffer.

One of Lyons' attorneys said circumstances are vastly different today than they were in 1991 when Lyons faced the federal bank fraud investigation.

Prison, the lawyer said, has led Lyons to a self-examination and feelings of true remorse.

"Prison life has certainly humbled him," said attorney Jay Hebert. "When I saw him (earlier this year), I clearly recognized a vastly changed man."

Lyons worked to obtain an $85,000 loan for the Florida General Baptist Convention in 1988 at a time when he was president of the group. The Citizens & Southern National Bank of Florida issued the loan after receiving three certificates of deposit from a credit union guaranteeing collateral for the loan.

The certificates, however, were forgeries and no collateral actually existed.

Lyons has never publicly acknowledged wrongdoing in the 1991 bank fraud case. The closest he has come to expressing remorse was this year when he told a federal judge the 1991 incident was a "wake-up call" from authorities that he did not heed.

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