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  • Lyons, Edwards own Lake Tahoe time share

    By STEPHEN NOHLGREN, CRAIG PITTMAN and DAVID BARSTOW

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published August 2, 1997


    The Rev. Henry J. Lyons and Bernice V. Edwards, who own a $700,000 waterfront house in Tierra Verde, also own a luxurious slice of the mountains in Lake Tahoe, property records show.

    Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., declined Friday night to confirm or deny buying the property.

    However, a Nevada deed lists Henry J. Lyons and Bernice V. Edwards as paying $22,500 in 1995 for a time-share unit in the five-star Ridge Tahoe Resort and Spa. The purchase was top of the line -- the "Emerald Suite."

    It was bought on her birthday, Oct. 27.

    Emerald Suite owners get one week a year to enjoy their 1,638-square-foot, two-bedroom condo, which features a private hot tub, fireplace and CD system.

    In the winter, the resort's gondola will ferry owners and guests right to a ski slope. On Sundays, mimosas accompany gourmet brunch for $21.95.

    Lyons' dealings with Edwards provoked controversy last month when police charged his wife with setting fire to the Tierra Verde house he bought on March 1 1996.

    The Lake Tahoe time share is the latest example of property ties between Lyons and Edwards, a convicted embezzler whom Lyons hired as the convention's public relations director.

    They also own a Rolls-Royce and have shared a checking account in a Pinellas County bank.

    Earlier this year, they signed a contract to purchase a $925,000 estate in Charlotte, N.C. The closing, scheduled last month, fell through after the Tierra Verde fire. Lyons and Edwards also arranged for the purchase of a $135,000 Mercedes-Benz this year. The car is registered to Edwards and Lyons' church, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church.

    Publicly, Lyons has denied any romantic relationship with Edwards.

    "I categorically deny that Ms. Bernice Edwards and I were carrying on an affair," Lyons said last month at a news conference he called at his St. Petersburg church.

    Friday night, he was shown the deed to the Tahoe time share.

    "That could be a fake," he said.

    He noted that the deed does not bear his signature. Asked whether he has ever purchased a time share in Lake Tahoe with Edwards, he replied: "Where is my signature?"

    Asked whether he knew anything at all about the time share, he replied again: "Where is my signature?"

    Asked whether he has ever been to Lake Tahoe, Lyons said yes, he had, many times, with his family.

    He terminated the interview by walking away from the front door.

    Deeds typically do not bear the signatures of the person buying the property, and with time-share units mortgages often aren't recorded in public records. Instead they are held by the development company that sold the property, the title agent for the Tahoe purchase said.

    According to a travel agent interviewed last month by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Lyons and Edwards flew to Lake Tahoe in October of 1995 to celebrate her 39th birthday.

    Edwards asked for a trip to the most romantic place in the world, the agent said. She booked the airfare and one hotel room with a credit-card number supplied by Lyons. She spoke directly to Lyons because he had to rearrange his travel schedule, the newspaper said.

    Property records in Douglas County, Nev., show that Lyons and Edwards paid $2,000 down on the time-share unit and financed the $20,500 balance with the resort.

    The deed lists both Lyons and Edwards as unmarried, just as they were listed on deeds to the Tierra Verde house. In Florida and many states, spouses of people buying property gain an interest in that property even if they are not listed on the deed. That's why lenders want to know a buyer's marital status.

    In both the Florida and Nevada purchases, Lyons and Edwards took ownership as "joint tenants with rights of survivorship," which means that if one dies, the other becomes the sole owner.

    Lyons has been married for 25 years. It remains unclear whether Edwards was legally married.

    Edwards' attorney, Frank Gimbel, said she and the late Jesse Douglas "Doug" Jones shared a "marriage-like" relationship and three children. Jones died of cancer a year after the time-share purchase.

    On a lawsuit and a police report in Milwaukee, however, Edwards says she was unmarried.

    Still, some acquaintances believed Edwards was married to Jones. And, after Jones died June 10, 1996, Edwards was listed as his "spouse" on his death certificate. (Edwards also is listed as the person supplying the information for his death certificate.)

    Edwards did not return phone messages Friday.

    Earlier Friday, Lyons talked with Pinellas County prosecutors about the Tierra Verde fire, in which Deborah Lyons is charged and he is considered the victim.

    He and his wife held hands as they walked out of the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office in Largo. They ignored reporters and photographers as they climbed in the back of a waiting Cadillac.

    Lyons and his two attorneys spent two hours with the prosecutors while his wife waited outside the office.

    "We didn't ask to speak with her," said Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery, who conducted the questioning with prosecutor Frank Piazza and Pinellas County sheriff's Detective Terry Sterling.

    Loughery said Lyons "was cooperative. A gentleman. It was a pleasant conversation." When reporters asked Lyons' attorney, Anthony S. Battaglia, why Mrs. Lyons had come along, Battaglia replied, "To accompany her husband."

    Neither Battaglia nor prosecutors would comment on what they talked about with Lyons. They would not say whether Lyons answered any questions about his finances or the finances of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., the 8.5-million member denomination he serves as president.

    After driving away with the Lyonses, Battaglia later returned to the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center to meet with Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada in the judge's chambers. Battaglia apparently filed motions seeking to block prosecutors' efforts to review the convention's financial records at the United Bank & Trust Co. of St. Petersburg.

    Prosecutors subpoenaed records from United Bank last week after a Times story described the pastor's use of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. Baptist Builder Fund. Convention officials have said they were unaware of any Baptist Builder Fund. Neither the convention's annual report nor its most recent audit make mention of the fund.

    After his meeting with Quesada, Battaglia was unavailable for comment. Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, who was not part of the meeting in Quesada's chambers, said he could not comment on the motions because of an order issued by Quesada.

    Lyons' trip to the state attorneys office on Friday is not the first for his family. One of the couple's daughters, Stephanie, also has answered questions in connection with the investigation of her mother.

    Loughery said prosecutors wanted to talk to Stephanie Lyons because "she was present when her mother made a lot of statements to police."

    According to sheriff's deputies, Deborah Lyons drove over to the Tierra Verde house and let herself in. She smashed lamps, tossed clothing around and tore open pillows, then set several fires, causing an estimated $30,000 in damage, deputies said. Driving back to her own $285,000 home in St. Petersburg's Broadwater neighborhood, she crashed her car into a palm tree.

    The day after her arrest Mrs. Lyons told the Times that the deputies had misunderstood her. She said she did not doubt her husband's fidelity. She had known about the Tierra Verde house for some time, calling it a "national guest house" for the convention.

    She said she went there to get some papers for her husband, who was traveling in Nigeria with Edwards and other convention officials. She said she lit a cigarette, dropped the match and accidentally started a fire, but did not call the fire department.

    "It may not make any sense, but that's what happened," she said.

    Lyons has written prosecutors urging them not to prosecute his wife, and one of Lyons' attorneys, Grady Irvin, has said there was no burglary because Mrs. Lyons had the owners' permission to be in the house.

    Irvin has also said Mrs. Lyons was unable to form the intent to commit the crime of arson, but would not elaborate. Attorneys generally make that argument in connection with a defense of impairment from mental illness, drugs or alcohol. Police who investigated the wreck of Mrs. Lyons' car determined alcohol was not a factor in the crash.

    Mrs. Lyons' attorneys, Paul Meissner and Kevin Hayslett, have filed a plea of not guilty on her behalf. They did not accompany their client to the state attorney's office Friday and could not be reached for comment.

    Bartlett said that now that Lyons has given prosecutors a statement, they will soon make a decision about what formal charges they may file against Mrs. Lyons. He said they can do that although they have not yet spoken with the other victim, Edwards.

    Edwards, who lives in Milwaukee, did not appear Friday, although, like Lyons, she was under subpoena. Her attorney, Richard Rhodes of Orlando, said she would show up to answer prosecutors' questions in the near future.

    He declined to answer other questions.
    -- Times staff writers Monica Davey and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this story.


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