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  • Rev. Lyons goes on-air to apologize, plead case

    By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
    ©St. Petersburg Times, published August 28, 1997


    The Rev. Henry Lyons took to the airwaves Wednesday night to apologize for disappointing his supporters and to deny extramarital affairs or stealing money from the National Baptist Convention USA.

    However, he admitted to "bad judgment call, sloppy bookkeeping, you name it, I did it" in his handling of the Baptist Builder Fund account that he and convicted embezzler Bernice Edwards used to pay for a house, jewelry and other personal items.

    Despite that error, he said he has prayed he will still be the president of the nation's largest African-American church group after a gathering in Denver next week.

    Lyons, who just last month swore he would not talk to the media, showed up Wednesday on the news broadcasts of three local television stations. One program featured him live for about 20 minutes with no commercial break.

    He answered some questions but ducked others. For instance, when WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor Kelly Ring asked him to explain his statement to the Florida Sentinel Bulletin that he "just forgot" about being married and divorced twice, Lyons dismissed the quote as inaccurate.

    He still did not address how he came to omit two previous marriages on the license for his current marriage.

    When WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor John Wilson asked Lyons to explain why his wife, Deborah, told Pinellas sheriff's deputies she believed her husband was unfaithful, Lyons only said he and his wife love each other.

    "I would not want to comment any further on my marital affair, uh, my marital relationship with my wife rather," he said.

    When Wilson pressed him again about Mrs. Lyons' statements, he replied, "She's informed me, as well as others, and I'd like to not discuss this any further obviously for legal reasons, and I'd like you to respect that, she was just not aware of that."

    Wilson did not ask him to explain what he meant.

    Lyons told TV reporters that he was now breaking his silence because of a story in Wednesday's Times in which, for the first time, Lyons said the convention money in the Baptist Builder Fund account had been commingled with money he and Edwards earned on their own.

    He said they collected commissions on deals they had arranged between the convention and various corporations, such as Globe Insurance, which bought a mailing list, and General Motors, which bought the right to display cars at a convention gathering.

    Calling the Times story "accurate," Lyons reiterated for the TV audience that he and Edwards -- who he insisted was a business partner, not a mistress -- collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from those deals.

    Then, he said, he deposited the money in the builder fund account he said the church group maintained to cover some salaries, day-to-day operations and travel expenses, but drew out money for things Edwards wanted to buy, such as a $700,000 house in Tierra Verde. After a July 6 fire at that house, Mrs. Lyons was charged with arson.

    Lyons called the commingling of personal and church funds "a serious mistake on my part that I believe I will regret for evidently the rest of my life." But he also said he has "not stolen or taken or embezzled or laundered any convention money."

    He called his bookkeeping "somewhat accurate," but when pressed to produce some documentation, such as deposit slips, Lyons instead talked of the difficulty of following his own accounting work.

    "Well, all of that has to be, you know, researched, and I've spent the last month researching this and going back and forth trying to put the pieces together," he said.

    In an oblique reference to his unsuccessful court battle to keep Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors from subpoenaing his bank records, Lyons said, "Of course, I'm cooperating, not that I have any choice about being cooperative, but I am."

    Convention officials investigating Lyons' use of convention accounts plan to release their findings at the convention's annual meeting in Denver next week. The information could determine if Lyons remains as president.


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