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Political pen pals: Letters fly in fund-raising feud

By DAVID BARSTOW and MONICA DAVEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 1998


In a testy exchange of letters Friday, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and the state Republican Party leader feuded over $10,000 Brown accepted from a secret bank account Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons allegedly used for money laundering.

Brown accused Tom Slade, state GOP chairman, of making "political hay" when he told the St. Petersburg Times this week that Brown violated either campaign finance or tax laws by accepting the $10,000.

While denying wrongdoing, Brown has yet to produce bank records or receipts to show where the money went. Nor did she report the money in campaign spending reports.

In a letter to Slade, Brown said the money was "donated" to help pay for a rally she organized in 1996 to protest changes to the shape of her district. At the time, Brown also was running for re-election.

"Fair is fair, Mr. Slade," Brown wrote. "Since you are apparently concerned about the legality and disclosure of payments relating to redistricting, the time has surely come for you to provide the media of the state with an accounting of your party's activity."

Slade brushed off Brown's demand.

"I can understand your displeasure at my comments regarding your mysterious $10,000," he responded in a letter. "It matters not if I find this little episode suspicious. You need to focus your concerns on the views of the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

"According to press reports," he wrote, "this $10,000 check was written to you personally. When you signed your name on the back of the check, you took possession of the $10,000. At that time you had two roads that led out of town. One was governed by federal election statutes and the other was the federal tax code. While I appreciate your efforts to explain things to me, please save it for the proper authorities."

In her letter to Slade, Brown questioned the GOP's use of $95,000 from Thomas Kramer, a South Florida developer who has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for illegal campaign contributions to both parties. Kramer is barred from making contributions because he is a German national. Both parties have been fined for taking his money.

The state GOP, however, was allowed to keep $95,000 from Kramer. The money paid for lawyers in the battle over how to reshape Brown's district. Generally, money spent on such redistricting activities is exempt from campaign finance rules.

"So your party had no apparent problem with taking a huge sum of money from an individual who was not even an American citizen, and using it to pay for your effort to change my district -- and even its representation," Brown's letter stated.

"Yet you imagine that somehow the citizens of my district ... pay attention to your complaints about the $10,000 donated through Dr. Lyons toward a redistricting rally held to defend against your efforts -- a rally that over 1,000 Floridians attended to express their concerns about the efforts of your party to use redistricting to disenfranchise African-American voters."

Referring to the Kramer matter, Slade replied: "It is difficult to conceal my pleasure at your making comparisons between your case and that one. Our violation of rules called for a fine. Yours will no doubt call for fines, or worse."

Also Friday, lawyers for a Milwaukee man filed a judgment in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court against Bernice Edwards, who was arrested with Lyons, the president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. They are accused of racketeering.

Max Lehninger, 90, loaned Edwards nearly $100,000 during the past decade. Last month, a Milwaukee court entered a $49,767 judgment against Edwards for her remaining debt to Lehninger. By filing the Wisconsin judgment here, Lehninger hopes to stop Edwards and Lyons from selling a $700,000 Tierra Verde house they co-own without paying Edwards' debt, Lehninger's attorney said. Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service filed a $41,300 tax lien against Edwards in Pinellas County.

On Friday, property records still listed Lyons and Edwards as owners of the house.


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