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Subpoena for records overwhelms Baptists

By LARRY DOUGHERTY, MONICA DAVEY
and DAVID BARSTOW

©St. Petersburg Times, published December 12, 1997


photo of LaSpada and Cooper
Anthony LaSpada, left, an attorney on the Baptist convention's defense team, accompanies the Rev. Roscoe Cooper, general secretary of the convention, into the federal courthouse Thursday in Tampa.
Photo: Jim Stem

Signaling a widening criminal inquiry, a federal grand jury has subpoenaed "car loads" of financial documents from the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., an attorney for the convention said Thursday.

Investigators have asked the convention to turn over "all financial records" for the past several years, everything from bank statements to check stubs, attorney Bruce Howie said.

"We're talking car loads (of records)," Howie said Thursday as he entered Tampa's federal court, where the grand jury heard testimony from Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons' former administrative assistant and two top convention officials.

The subpoena request was so extensive, Howie said, that the Baptist organization asked for and received two extensions of the deadline to produce the documents. The request, he said, far exceeds the scope of prior subpoenas for financial records issued by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, who heads a separate state investigation into Lyons' dealings.

"Its not even close," Howie said.

He spoke moments after the Rev. Roscoe Cooper, general secretary of the convention, and the Rev. A.H. Newman, chairman of the convention's board of directors, entered the federal courthouse. They were accompanied by attorney Anthony LaSpada, a member of the convention's growing defense team.

LaSpada, 55, is a former chief assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida whose specialties include civil and criminal tax litigation. Along with Anthony Battaglia, one of Lyons' defense attorneys, LaSpada recently defended a St. Petersburg couple accused of racketeering and fraud.
Dr. A.H. Newman, subpeonaed in the Rev. Lyons investigation , leaves the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa on Thursday.
Photo: Tony Lopez

Twenty minutes later, at 10:30 a.m., Lyons' former administrative assistant, Lynda Shorter, arrived. While Cooper and Newman entered through the court's front doors, passing a dozen reporters and photographers, Shorter was driven to the court's back entrance in an unmarked government car.

She was escorted by her attorney, Nathaniel Tindall, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Lawson and James L. Cohen, a criminal investigator with the Internal Revenue Service.

Now employed by a computer company in Atlanta, Shorter comes from a prominent St. Petersburg family. Her father, Charles Shorter, is a former member of the St. Petersburg City Council. Her mother, Barbara Shorter, is principal of Gibbs High School.

Shorter, 36, grew up attending Lyons' church, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, and served as his assistant from June 1995 to June 1996. She fielded phone calls to Lyons, typed checks for him to sign, handled his correspondence, assisted with travel arrangements and sometimes made bank deposits for him.

According to Tindall, she began cooperating with state and federal authorities this summer. She turned over records from her work, and she described what she saw, heard and did during her tenure with the convention.

"She's doing no more than her civic duty and obligation to make sure the wheels of justice grind slowly but surely toward the truth," Tindall said.

Shorter spent nearly two hours before the grand jury. What did she tell the jurors? "Everything that she knew," Tindall said. Shorter declined to talk to reporters as she left the courthouse.

In the afternoon, Newman spent a little more than an hour in the grand jury room. Newman declined to discuss his testimony.

Cooper spent an hour and 10 minutes in the grand jury room. Cooper also declined to discuss his testimony, but LaSpada said Cooper answered all the questions he was asked.

"I'm on my way to catch a plane," Cooper said.

Like Shorter, neither Cooper nor Newman are targets of the grand jury investigation. Cooper's name has been forged on four convention documents connected to financial transactions involving Lyons. Newman's name has been forged on two. It is not known whether they were asked about the forgeries.

Asked if the National Baptist Convention was at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of the federal investigation, convention attorney Howie replied, "No, I don't feel that's a possibility at this point."

Meanwhile, Lyons is continuing his appeals for more money to shore up the convention's increasingly shaky financial condition. In a speech Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn., Lyons said the convention needs to raise $1-million in all to pay its bills -- including a $371,000 mortgage payment on its World Center.

"We do the best we can with what you give us," Lyons told a conference of educators.
Times staff writer Mike Wilson contributed to this report, as did Times researcher Cary Kenney. This report includes material from the Associated Press.


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