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The Rev. Henry Lyons

 

 
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Some excerpts from the 82-page arrest affidavit

Times staff writers

©St. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 2006


The investigation ... has established that in October 1994, shortly after being elected president of NBC (the National Baptist Convention), Henry Lyons opened a secret NBC bank account; and that beginning in early 1995, and continuing until July 1997, Lyons, Bernice Edwards, Fred Demps (an NBC minister and close friend of Henry Lyons) and Brenda Harris (the NBC director of conventions and meetings -- and Lyons' paramour) were engaged in various schemes to defraud several large corporations. Further, the investigation established a large theft of funds from the Anti-Defamation League....


Renowned defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey, one of Lyons' battery of attorneys, leaves the county jail area on Wednesday.
(Times photo: Mike Pease)
The investigation ... established that although NBC has numerous bank accounts throughout the country, the Baptist Builder Fund account was a secret account opened by Lyons, and used primarily to deposit funds which he and Bernice Edwards had swindled from various corporations.

Lyons' records

Lynda Shorter, Lyons' former administrative assistant/secretary relating to all NBC business ... was interviewed.... (She said that) many of the checks (which arrived at the church in the mail) were not given to her but were deposited by Lyons himself who frequently went to the bank to make deposits.... She stated that there was no bookkeeper, accountant or any other employee keeping records...

(Although Lyons has made numerous public statements throughout this investigation, he has refused to submit to any questioning by our office, or turn over any records regarding the ADL funds or any other aspect of his financial dealings or the NBC.)

ADL money

The investigation has established that Lyons' public comments about not diverting Anti-Defamation League funds (intended to rebuild burned-out churches) to other convention uses and his implication that the money was kept in an operating account of NBC and not spent because the churches ... "just did not need the funds," are all completely false...

Lyons then used much of the ADL funds for his own use. Included was $60,000 transferred to his personal savings account at United Bank (on Nov. 13, 1996, the day after he deposited the ADL check); $25,300 in checks to, or on behalf, of his paramour, Brenda Harris; $12,177 to his wife, Deborah Lyons; $2,094 to his daughter, Stephanie Lyons; $4,000 to pay his personal credit card bill; and $4,000 to an interior decorator for decorating services at his personal residence in St. Petersburg. The balance of the funds were completely expended on various other expenses, none of which had anything to do with "burned churches."...

The Lyons Chronicles
Click here for a history of this case as reported in the St. Petersburg Times
Immediately after the first ADL check ($225,000) was deposited to the NBC Baptist Builder account, Lyons transferred $60,000 to his personal savings account at the United Bank.

Brenda Harris

Renee Fagans, Brenda Harris' assistant who worked with her at NBC headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., advised me that Lyons and Harris were having a love affair for the entire time that she (Fagans) worked at NBC; that Henry Lyons told her that he was in love with Brenda Harris and that he was going to marry her. Further, Fagans stated that Brenda Harris bragged openly and continuously about their affair, and told her that she and Lyons were going to be married as soon as he could "get rid of his alcoholic wife." Fagans further stated that Harris and Henry Lyons went for a "getaway" trip to New York on one occasion, and he bought her a very expensive mink coat, as well as repeatedly sending her very substantial amounts of money

Lynda Shorter, Lyons' former administrative assistant, advised me that she was aware of Lyons and Brenda Harris' affair; that Lyons would often tell her to cancel all of his appointments, and then he and Brenda Harris would "disappear" together. Further, Shorter said that Lyons instructed her never to tell his wife where he was, despite the fact that Deborah Lyons was frequently looking for him.... Henry Lyons sent at least $523,370 to Brenda Harris from June 1995 to July 1997. (He sent her another $100,000 from an NBC Convention bank account, some of which may be related to her travel agency business.)

The Loewen Group

(The National Baptist Convention under Lyons had a contract with the Loewen Group in which NBC would market Loewen products to its members in return for commissions to the convention.) Loewen vice president Larry Miller stated ... they (he and company president Tim Hogenkamp) agreed to send $500,000

Miller stated that at that point they trusted Lyons; that they believed he was "the black pope"; and they fully believed Lyons when he told them he would provide evidence of payment to various people in Mississippi. Further, Lyons and Jones (Bernice Edwards) had agreed to provide receipts the next time Hogenkamp and Lyons met.

Miller further stated that after sending $500,000 to a bank account in Milwaukee, whose name and bank routing number was provided to Hogenkamp by Lyons and Jones, Hogenkamp told him that Jones was badgering him and telephoning him at home asking for the balance of the money. Miller stated that he and Hogenkamp had decided not to send any more money because Lyons and Jones never provided the documents that they had promised.

Miller further stated that sometime between late February and March 14, 1996, he received another telephone call from Jones and Lyons. Jones started the conversation by advising Miller that she and Lyons were calling from the White House in Washington, D.C., and that they had just come from a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Lyons then got on the phone and told Miller that the Black Caucus members were so angry at Loewen that they were going to launch an investigation of Loewen for allegedly ripping off poor people.

Lyons then told Miller that he had gotten the investigation stopped; that he had advised the Black Caucus that the Loewen Group was a good company. Lyons further told Miller that he was "going to stand shoulder to shoulder with Loewen" and he then asked, "Where is the balance of my money?" Miller then told Lyons that Loewen had never received any receipts, checks or invoices, at which point Lyons told Jones, "Make sure you give them the receipts."

Miller then quoted Lyons as telling him that if he (Lyons) did not get the money, he would hold a press conference on the steps of the Capitol and tell the world that Loewen is a company that reneges on contracts, and further Lyons said he would pull out of the marketing agreement. Miller than quoted Lyons as telling him, "What I think of Loewen depends on whether I get my money."

Lyons further reminded Miller that he and President Bill Clinton were close friends. Lyons demanded that the balance of the money be wired that day and Lyons and Jones again told him what account to send it to, in Milwaukee. Miller stated that after the conversation, he and Hogenkamp decided to send an additional $500,000 for a total of $1-million; however, they agreed they would send no further funds for the alleged expenses that Lyons had incurred in Mississippi.

In response to my question as to why the Loewen Group had sent the $1-million dollars to Lyons and Jones without any evidence (checks, receipts, etc.) as to who Lyons had advanced the money to or even the names of anyone that Lyons had allegedly hired, Miller stated that the company was terrified that Lyons could effectively destroy them.

The Tierra Verde house

The house at 225 Sixth Ave. N, Tierra Verde, Florida, was purchased on March 1, 1996, in the joint names of Henry J. Lyons and Bernice Edwards. Although Lyons has publicly stated that it was purchased as a "guest house" for visiting NBC members, Oona Conroy, the Prudential Florida Realty agent who sold the house, told me that she was first contacted by Bernice Edwards, who telephoned from Milwaukee and said she was looking for a house on the water in Tierra Verde; that when Edwards and Lyons saw the house, Edwards stated, "That's for me"; that neither of them ever said anything about buying the house for the NBC; and that Edwards told her that she and Lyons were going to live at the house

Bernice Edwards

With regard to Bernice Edwards' (aka Bree Jones) representations ... that she was very wealthy; that she and her husband owned hundreds of radio stations, TV stations and newspapers around the country catering to black audiences as well as her claim that she had personally advanced $2-million to Henry Lyons/NBC to pay various lawyers, investigators, ministers, etc. in Mississippi, the investigation established that these were all completely untrue...

* * *

The files of the U.S. probation office in Milwaukee, Wis., reflect that "Bernice Edwards Jones" 1995 federal income tax return reflects taxable income of $2,956 (this was the period in which she had supposedly "advanced" $2-million to NBC to be spent in Mississippi). The Probation Department files further reflect that Bernice Edwards' only income was from a $40,000-per-year employment contract with the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. dated Sept. 30, 1994....

* * *

With further regard to the J H Associates' bank account, the evidence is that this was nothing more than a "hidden" personal bank account used to "launder" the funds obtained from the Loewen Group.... In this regard it is significant to note that total deposits to the account were $1,524,737 and that despite this, Bree Jones did not want an interest bearing account (which would have generated a IRS Form 1099 from the bank). All of these actions establish that the J H Associates' account was a hidden personal account of Bernice Edwards.

Corporate deals

The investigation established that Henry Lyons, Bernice Edwards and sometimes Fred Demps represented to several large companies that the National Baptist Convention had 8-million to 9-million members and 33,000 churches, and that Lyons had great influence with, not only the members of NBC, but with all of the 20-million members of all of the black Baptist denomination churches. Lyons and Edwards then entered into various contractual arrangements with these businesses in the name of the National Baptist Convention USA

These agreements essentially involved Lyons and/or NBC endorsing their service, or product, in exchange for large payments and/or contributions to the NBC. Most of the funds, after being deposited to the NBC Baptist Builder bank account, were then diverted to Lyons, Edwards or Demps' personal use (i.e., the NBC Baptist Builder bank account was used to "launder" the funds)....

Inflated membership lists

(Lyons assistant) Lynda Shorter stated she worked with Lyons in preparing this (NBC membership) list and that it was just "made up." She stated that she and Lyons sat together and Lyons would just make up a figure for the number of churches in a particular state, and he would then make up a figure for how many members in each state. Shorter stated that Lyons was chuckling as he was making up these figures...

She further stated that Henry Lyons himself told her that when he became president of National Baptist Convention there were less than 1-million members and maybe not even one-half million, and she has heard him tell this to others at a meeting....

Although he has declined to discuss the issue with investigators, Lyons has admitted, according to published comments, that there were neither 33,000 churches nor 8.5-million members in the convention (NBC) and that there was no membership list. He is reported as having stated that when he took over the presidency of NBC, there were 4,800 churches.

Aid to education

With regard to the $600,000 which Henry Lyons solicited from Globe Life for Selma University, as well as the $70,000 solicited from the Loewen Group, the investigation established that Henry Lyons solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars from other corporations and entities for the NBC "Christian Education Fund" (among these are $100,000 from General Motors, and $350,000 from the Nigerian government)...

Henry Lyons is quoted as telling the press: "Every dollar I could find, I pressed it into colleges.... Every dollar we could get above expenses went to education." Lyons then provided a schedule reflecting $1.65-million which, he stated, NBC had given to black colleges. He implied that this explained how he spent some of the funds he deposited to the NBC Baptist Builder Fund bank account, i.e., the funds earned from the "deals" he had made.

A review of the NBC Baptist Builder Fund bank records reflects that most of the donations to the "Education Fund," as discussed throughout this report, were deposited to that account and not to any "Education Fund." Lyons has publicly stated that he had "even handed over $100,000 of his own commissions to the schools."

My review of all of the known personal bank accounts of Henry and/or Deborah Lyons disclosed only two (2) checks, totaling $1,500, payable to colleges or seminaries.

Lyons arrestedThe charges •Some excerpts from the 82-page arrest affidavit • Congregation stands by pastor of 25 years


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