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US

Jury resumes deliberations in Florida church swindle case

Lyons
Lyons faces state racketeering charges

 

February 26, 1999
Web posted at: 10:27 a.m. EST (1527 GMT)


In this story:

'Traded good book for the bank book'

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



CLEARWATER, Florida (CNN) -- Jurors resumed deliberations Friday morning in the corruption case against influential church leader Rev. Henry Lyons and his former aide.

Jurors deliberated for more than an hour Thursday without reaching a verdict before court was adjourned for the day.

Rev. Henry Lyons and his former aide, Bernice Edwards, are accused of swindling more than $4 million from corporations seeking to market cemetery products, life insurance policies and credit cards to National Baptist Convention USA members.

The duo allegedly sold the companies phony telephone membership lists and siphoned off money donated for charity to finance their own lavish lifestyles, including a $700,000 waterfront home.

Lyons is president of the church, one of the nation's largest black religious organizations.

'Traded good book for the bank book'

As the case neared jury deliberation on Thursday, a prosecutor told jurors they should convict Lyons on state racketeering charges, because "somewhere down the line he traded the Good Book for the bank book."

In his closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery said the computerized mailing lists that Lyons and Edwards sold were padded with randomly selected names from phone books across the country, even including a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan on one list.

The corporations thought they were getting the names and addresses of the 8.5 million members who are supposed to belong to the National Baptist Convention.

Lyons' attorneys countered that no corporations have called police.

To Lyons and Edwards, said defense attorney Dennis de Vlaming, "it's business. It's not fraud, it's not cheating. It's not. It's business."

Among the charges against Lyons is that he took more than $200,000 donated to rebuild churches burned during a spate of fires in the South.

Prosecutors also said Lyons spent the money on mistresses and a lifestyle that included buying Mercedes cars, furs, diamond jewelry and expensive real estate.

Lyons came to the attention of authorities after his wife, Deborah, set fire to the house Lyons and Edwards owned in St. Petersburg in July 1997. Lyons' wife told authorities at the time that she believed her husband and Edwards were having an affair.

After the state trial, Lyons faces federal charges of mail and wire fraud, extortion, and money laundering.


RELATED STORIES:
Defense attorney: 'Corporate giants against little preacher'
February 24, 1999
Prosecutors say church leader misused money for burned black churches
January 27, 1999
Baptist leader goes on trial in Florida racketeering case
January 26, 1999
Black Baptist leader charged with racketeering
February 25, 1998
Church leader apologizes but won't step down
December 4, 1997

RELATED SITES:
National Baptist Convention, Inc.
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