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FBI in Milwaukee joins Lyons investigation

By MONICA DAVEY, DAVID BARSTOW and MIKE WILSON

©St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 1997


A federal inquiry into the dealings of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons has expanded to Milwaukee, where FBI agents are investigating the Wisconsin woman who co-owns a Tierra Verde home with Lyons.

Bernice V. Edwards, a convicted embezzler to whom Lyons gave a top job with the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., is part of an FBI inquiry, Agent Barry Babler of Milwaukee confirmed Friday.

Babler declined to say what laws Edwards may have broken. Agents in Wisconsin are cooperating with federal authorities in Tampa, he said. "We do have a pending investigation and I can't say more," Babler said.

In August, U.S. Attorney Charles Wilson of Tampa announced a federal investigation of Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention and pastor at Bethel Metropolitan Church in St. Petersburg.

Sam Armstrong, a spokesman for Wilson, would not comment Friday on whether that investigation has expanded to include Edwards, or whether federal investigators in Tampa are coordinating with federal authorities in Milwaukee.

"A federal investigation still exists," Armstrong said. "We do not have any additional comment."

Edwards, 41, could not be reached for comment at her Milwaukee home on Friday.

Lyons made Edwards director of corporate public relations for the Baptist organization after he was elected its leader in 1994. The pair have faced scrutiny for their personal and financial dealings since Lyons' wife set fire to the Tierra Verde house on July 6. At the time, Lyons' wife told investigators she set fire to the house because she suspected her husband of having an affair with Edwards, an allegation Lyons has repeatedly denied.

The fire led to revelations of other connections between Lyons and Edwards. They jointly owned a Rolls-Royce. They co-owned a time share property in Lake Tahoe, Nev. They had made arrangements to buy a $900,000 home in Charlotte, N.C.

Edwards also helped set up a secret Milwaukee bank account, where more than $1-million in corporate money intended for the National Baptist Convention was placed. The Guaranty bank account, in the name of J.H. Associates, helped pay for personal purchases by Edwards and Lyons, including a down payment on the Tierra Verde house and a $28,700 payment for a diamond ring.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars more were transferred from that account into the convention's Baptist Builder Fund, an account Lyons controlled in a St. Petersburg bank. Money from that fund was used for the down payment on the ring, a utility bill at the Tierra Verde house and for memberships to a city club in Nashville, Tenn.

In August, Lyons said he fired Edwards.


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