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Grand jury subpoenas Lyons' tax records

By CRAIG PITTMAN and MONICA DAVEY

©St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 1997


A federal grand jury investigating the Rev. Henry J. Lyons has subpoenaed some of his personal tax documents, according to the minister's attorneys.

Grand jurors also want to see documents from his National Baptist Convention USA and talk to some of the religious group's leaders. But Lyons, president of the Baptist group, has not been asked to appear before the grand jury meeting in Tampa, defense attorneys Anthony Battaglia and Denis de Vlaming said Thursday.

"We have not seen any indication of any request for our client's presence," Battaglia said. "Even if one was given, I'm confident that there would not be an appearance."

Just because the grand jury is reviewing evidence now does not necessarily mean it will reach a conclusion about Lyons any time soon, Battaglia said.

"If the government chooses to return an indictment, in my opinion, it probably will be in the next three or four months, or maybe longer," he said.

Investigators from the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office may conclude their investigation sooner than that, de Vlaming said.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Charles Wilson would not confirm the grand jury's activities. "We are in no position to give what time frame he's going to be indicted," Assistant U.S. Attorney Monte Richardson said.

The convention's general secretary, Roscoe Cooper, has been subpoenaed to testify Thursday, indicating the panel may be focusing on who forged Cooper's signature on four documents.

All four documents, which Cooper has said he never signed, were connected to financial deals involving Lyons. Each carries a Cooper signature to show the transaction had the blessing of the Baptist group.

Those documents include a resolution authorizing Lyons to accept a $300,000 advance from a Nashville bank as part of a credit card deal; a resolution promising to guarantee a $300,000 home loan for Brenda Harris, a convention employee who has been romantically linked to Lyons; a lease, presented to help secure a bank loan, committing the convention to pay rent to Lyons for use of a $700,000 house on Tierra Verde; and a letter designed to secure public financing for a housing project initiated by Lyons.

* * *

Falsifying a document to obtain a bank loan can be a crime under state and federal laws. Federal law also makes it a crime to knowingly give a false document to a federal agency.

Battaglia declined to name others who have been called to appear. The grand jury is scheduled to hear more testimony in Lyons' case on Jan. 8, he said.

Lyons became the subject of both state and federal investigations after his wife, Deborah, set fire in July to the Tierra Verde house, which he owns with convicted embezzler Bernice V. Edwards. Mrs. Lyons told investigators she believed her husband was having an affair with Edwards.

The fire led to several other discoveries: Lyons and Edwards also owned property together in Lake Tahoe, Nev.; they had tried to buy a $1-million home in Charlotte, N.C.; they bought expensive jewelry and paid utility bills with money from a convention account controlled by Lyons and not listed in convention documents.

In a news conference Wednesday, Lyons insisted he never intended to break any law but understood "that the authorities may very well be intent on prosecuting me." He said he was "ready to face whatever charges I may face or should face."

The federal grand jury consists of 16 to 23 people called in from Brooksville to Bradenton. The panel meets in secret for a year, and it takes a vote of at least 12 to return an indictment.
-- Times staff writers Larry Dougherty and Bruce Vielmetti contributed to this story.


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