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  • Lyons shares the wealth with Rev. Demps

    By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staf Writer
    ©St. Petersburg Times, published August 29, 1997


    When the Rev. Henry Lyons went to Nigeria, the Rev. Fred Demps went with him. When Lyons tried to build a Fort Lauderdale hotel, Demps spoke for him.

    And when Lyons collected thousands of dollars in commissions, Lyons says Demps did, too.

    Lyons said that Demps arranged three deals between the National Baptist Convention USA and various corporations and that Demps got to keep half the money those deals produced -- commissions totaling $207,500.

    Lyons said Demps' 50 percent commission is "per his contract" with the convention. How did Demps qualify for such a lucrative job?

    "First of all he is a good friend, that's number one," Lyons said. "And Rev. Demps has always been a good person in corporate America to get out and to touch corporate America for sponsorship dollars. . . . He does the job well, and so I keep him out there."

    Demps, 46, did not respond to telephone messages left at his home or his church in Palatka or his office at NBC Holdings in Fort Lauderdale.

    Demps is not listed in the National Baptist Convention USA's annual report as a board member or convention employee. He has served as vice president of the Florida General Baptist Convention, the organization Lyons led before becoming national president.

    In 1984 Lyons and Demps formed Henfred Enterprises to broker deals involving paper products, said John Demps, the minister's cousin, who was part of the effort. The company failed.

    John Demps said his cousin was the Florida convention's economic development director -- not lining up corporate partners and cutting deals, but developing its 160-acre campsite near Palatka.

    Lyons' efforts to raise $50-million for developing that campsite led to the Florida convention losing $39,000 to a con man. John Demps said the financing -- far less than $50-million -- ultimately came from a local bank.

    Lyons and Demps formed another corporation called the Florida Institute on Drug and Substance Abuse. In 1990 the office of Gov. Bob Martinez sent checks totaling $50,000 to the institute. With the help of Republican lawmakers and with the governor's approval, the Legislature appropriated another $300,000 for the institute. Lyons later endorsed Martinez's bid for re-election.

    Demps worked briefly in 1993 as a community outreach coordinator for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, whom Lyons also endorsed.

    Last year, when Lyons made a bid for his church group to build a $61-million hotel in Fort Lauderdale through a corporation called NBC Holdings, Demps told the project's architect he was the CEO.

    NBC Holdings' most vocal supporter on the Broward County Commission has been Sylvia Poitier. But Poitier was unable to vote on the hotel project because of a conflict of interest. Poitier said she loaned Demps' church about $60,000 to reimburse it for expenses related to the project, a business arrangement she has yet to explain.

    When Lyons traveled to Nigeria last month, Demps went, too. While there, Lyons met the leaders of Nigeria's stock exchange to discuss listing Demps' company. Nigerian newspapers reported that Lyons told exchange officials NBC Holdings is already managing an unspecified multimillion dollar business in Ghana.

    -- Times staff writers Monica Davey, Tim Roche and Katherine Gazella and researchers Carolyn Hardnett and Kitty Bennett contributed to this report, which includes information from Times files.


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