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  • Now unsealed, documents detail Lyons subpoenas

    By CRAIG PITTMAN

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published August 5, 1997


    LARGO -- Prosecutors have subpoenaed all records of the Rev. Henry Lyons' financial dealings with a St. Petersburg bank, as well as records of the National Baptist Convention USA, according to court documents unsealed Monday at the request of the St. Petersburg Times and WFLA-TV.

    The documents relating to those three subpoenas were unsealed over the objections of attorneys for Lyons and the convention.

    However, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada did delete information that prosecutors said could reveal too much about their ongoing investigation of Lyons.

    Lyons, president of the 8.5-million member Baptist group, has come under scrutiny since his wife's arrest July 6 on charges she set fire to a $700,000 Tierra Verde house Lyons purchased with another woman, convicted embezzler Bernice Edwards.

    The state attorney's office subpoenaed records from United Bank and Trust Co., the St. Petersburg bank where Lyons maintained an account called the Baptist Builder Fund -- a fund other convention officials say they have never heard of.

    United Bank is the same bank that financed a $135,000 Mercedes-Benz bought this year in the name of Edwards and Lyons' church, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist. And a cashier's check from United Bank was used as a deposit on a house that Edwards and Lyons attempted to buy together in Charlotte, N.C.

    The first subpoena went out July 18, followed by two more July 21 and July 24. Each, according to documents made public Monday, ordered the bank to turn over "documents relating to Lyons and others." Who the others were was not specified.

    Bank officials already have complied with the first subpoena. The second, according to the documents unsealed Monday, demands " "identification (account name and number) and signature card for all open or closed accounts (corporate, trust, estate, partnership or any other entity)' in which Lyons or another individual are currently or previously have been an authorized signer on said account."

    The word "all" was underlined.

    The third subpoena requests signature cards and monthly statements related to Lyons. The subpoena sought more than that, but the rest of the document describing it was blacked out at the request of Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett.

    Last week, one of Lyons' attorneys, Anthony Battaglia, filed motions to block those subpoenas. Filed on behalf of both Lyons and the convention, the motions argue that the subpoenas are a "fishing expedition" and abuse the prosecutors' powers by "intruding into the exercise of religion."

    On Friday, Battaglia met with Quesada with no other attorneys present. At Battaglia's request, without holding any hearing, Quesada ordered the two motions sealed from public view and ordered the attorneys -- including prosecutors -- not to talk about what was in them.

    So Monday, an attorney for the Times, Patricia Fields Anderson, and an attorney for WFLA, Jim Lake, argued that Quesada should lift the gag order and unseal the motions.

    Attorneys Stephen Wein, representing Lyons, and Bruce Howie, representing the convention, contended that unsealing the motions would violate their clients' privacy. But Quesada noted that, in an interview that appeared in the Times last week, another of Lyons' attorneys sketched out the contents of the motions, thus waiving any claim to privacy.

    Attorneys for Lyons and the convention also have asked that any hearings on their motions be closed to the public. Quesada said he will not close the Aug. 19 hearing without giving media attorneys a chance to tell him why it should be kept open.

    While outside investigators scrutinize Lyons' dealings, it remains unclear whether convention officials will follow through on their announced plans for an internal investigation. Top officials planned to meet in Atlanta on Saturday to vote on establishing an investigative committee.

    But after the Times reported Friday that the meeting was scheduled, the meeting was canceled. Proposed members of the committee could not be reached Monday, and it was unclear whether another meeting is planned.
    -- Staff writer Sue Landry contributed to this report.

      ©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.