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Federal prosecutors drop Lyons appeal

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 1999


TAMPA -- In a move that apparently concludes the criminal prosecutions of former National Baptist Convention USA president Henry J. Lyons, federal prosecutors have withdrawn their appeal of the 51-month prison sentence imposed on Lyons in June.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said Thursday that prosecutors followed standard practice when they filed their appeal in July to give them time to decide whether to pursue an appeal on the merits.

"We evaluated it and determined not to appeal the case," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Seigel said Thursday, calling the process "fairly routine."

Lyons' federal lawyer, Jeff Brown, said Thursday that he was pleased with the government's decision, which is dated Aug. 23. It means Lyons' case will no longer be contested in the state or federal courts.

"He still has over five years in prison, so the journey is not over as far as that is concerned," Brown said. "But as far as all of the trials and court proceedings, he can put that to rest, and close that chapter of his life with what went on with the NBC."

Lyons got 51 months in federal prison after he admitted using documents with the forged signatures of NBC officials in real estate and corporate marketing deals. He also failed to report $1.4-million he made from corporations interested in doing business with convention members.

His federal sentence is running concurrently with the 5 1/2-year sentence Lyons got in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court in March after his convictions there for racketeering and for stealing $200,000 intended to rebuild burned black churches. Last month Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer declined to reduce the sentence.

Brown said he wrote Lyons in prison with the news about the withdrawal of the federal appeal. He said he hasn't talked to Lyons in some time, but understands from his other attorneys that he continues not to do well physically in prison. Tests indicate Lyons might have been exposed to tuberculosis. Prison doctors have placed him on a regimen of antibiotics and vitamins.

Seigel of the U.S. Attorney's Office said it is routine to file what prosecutors call "protective notices of appeal." Usually most criminal judgments must be appealed within a certain set period, frequently 10 to 30 days, Seigel said. That usually isn't enough time for federal prosecutors to decide, Seigel said, because every government appeal in a criminal case must be approved by the Office of the Solicitor General in Washington, D.C.

Seigel declined to discuss the substantive issues prosecutors were considering appealing.

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