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Officials talk to Lyons' secretary

Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 1998


TAMPA -- A secretary for the Rev. Henry J. Lyons met Tuesday with federal prosecutors investigating the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. president.

Berlena T. Hudson, 54, declined comment as she left the 45-minute meeting at
A Ministry in Question: The Henry Lyons chronicles from the pages of the St. Petersburg Times.
the Tampa offices of U.S. Attorney Charles Wilson.

Hudson is expected to appear next Thursday before a federal grand jury that has been investigating Lyons' financial transactions and tax returns, said Hudson's attorney, Jay A. Hebert.

Hudson "freely and voluntarily" attended Tuesday's meeting at the invitation of prosecutors, Hebert said. He called her conversation with the lawyers "very cordial," but declined to say what the topic was.

Hudson, an employee at Lyons' St. Petersburg church since 1989, has been linked to one of five forgeries discovered on financial documents that were intended to enrich Lyons or his friends. The forgeries have been a central focus of the grand jury investigation into Lyons.

In February, two handwriting experts hired by the St. Petersburg Times concluded that Hudson probably falsified a convention official's signature on a letter submitted to win financing for a housing project sponsored by Lyons. The experts found numerous similarities between samples of Hudson's writing and the forged signature.

Hudson continues to deny any wrongdoing, Hebert said Tuesday. She does not recall signing the letter and says it does not resemble her writing, Hebert said.

The 1997 letter stated that the National Baptist Convention had pledged a $750,000 line of credit toward a facility for the elderly that Lyons and his partners were proposing to build near Lyons' church. The letter was submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to obtain government insurance for the project's financing.

The letter purportedly bore the signature of the convention's general secretary, the Rev. Roscoe D. Cooper Jr.

Cooper has said he did not sign the letter. Nor did the convention pledge financial support for the project. Nor, said Cooper, had he ever heard about the proposed facility for the elderly.


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