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'This is not the act of a thief!' Lyons tells an audience of 130

In an evening of contrition and redemption, the Rev. Henry J. Lyons tells a St. Petersburg crowd that many good deeds go unnoticed.

The Rev. Henry J. Lyons speaks to a crowd of 130 people at the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, telling them his "real concern is clearing my name..." [Times photo: Pam Royal]


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 1998

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons stood before his community Tuesday night and said he was tired of being restrained by lawyers, tired of not being able to look his community in the eye and "just talk."

A Ministry Questioned: more coverage from the St. Petersburg Times.

The president of the National Baptist Convention USA, accused by federal and state prosecutors of stealing millions to finance a lavish lifestyle, said the media had ignored his and the convention's good deeds.

What of the more than $1.5-million donated to colleges and seminaries across the country during his presidency? What of the millions in mortgage payments to the convention headquarters in Nashville?

Holding aloft a sheet detailing the convention's good deeds, he told a crowd of 130 mostly enthusiastic supporters, "This is not the act of a thief!"

For Lyons, it was a night of contrition and redemption as he addressed a community forum of the Coalition of African-American Leadership at the Enoch Davis Center on 18th Avenue S in St. Petersburg.

There was Lyons with wife, Deborah, by his side, asking for the support of his community, despite "serious mistakes and misjudgments" that he did not enumerate. There was Lyons confidently boasting of his good work and saying that he would one day run again for the presidency of the NBC.

"Yes, I have suffered a great deal," he said, little more than a month before his trial on state theft and racketeering charges is set to open.

"Right now, my real concern is clearing my name. . . . I have made some mistakes. I really have. I've made some glaring errors. But I still believe and hold on to the good name my father gave me.

"From the bottom of my heart and everything in it, (I) ask your forgiveness tonight for all of this."

He said his lawyers did not want him to address the crowd so soon before trial. But Lyons said he felt compelled to talk, even if he could not specifically address the criminal charges he faces.

"I live in this county with you," he said. "When I walk into a store, I have got to look you in the eye."

And, referring to marital infidelities he has previous acknowledged, he thanked his wife for supporting him.

"Our lives have been literally torn asunder," Lyons said. "We are together. We have made our peace. She's holding up a whole lot better than I have."

Mrs. Lyons said she doesn't want anyone to blame him for anything he has done to her.

"I know many of you have problems with him," she said. "And whatever he has done or whatever he is alleged to (have done), I forgive him."

Lyon took questions from the crowd, but few offered any criticism. Instead, the media, particularly the St. Petersburg Times, took the brunt of the crowd's ill will.

A dozen reporters were kept at the back of the room and were not allowed to question Lyons.

Deborah Lyons led the charge against the media, accusing the media and prosecutors of being out to undo her husband.

"Justice can only be served if a full federal investigation can be conducted into the handling or mishandling of Henry Lyons as a citizen of this country," she said.

She said prosecutors and the media unfairly have mislabeled her husband's unsuccessful business deals as criminal. Those are matters for civil, not criminal, courts, she said.

Lyons and his co-defendant in the state case, Bernice Edwards, a former employee of the NBC, are accused of siphoning off millions of dollars into secret bank accounts to pay for a lavish lifestyle.


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