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Topic: The rise and fall of Rev Henry Lyons, National Baptist Assoc
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El Supremo


St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 1999

TAMPA -- Thousands of delegates from around the country go to the polls today to choose a new leader and to try to resurrect the tattered image of the National Baptist Convention USA.

On the eve of the election, candidates made last-minute appeals to enthusiastic crowds in churches and hotel ballrooms around the city -- promising to restore everything from accountability to spirituality.

Judging from the rallies, W. Franklyn Richardson, a candidate who has promised to reform the convention, seems to be the front-runner. He drew about 2,500 to the Hyatt Regency, where supporters chanted, "Rich, Rich, Rich" and waved signs as he entered.

Meanwhile, two of the closest allies of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, the disgraced former president of the NBC, joined forces.

The Rev. Roscoe D. Cooper, a self-acknowledged underdog, dropped out and threw his support to the Rev. E.V. Hill, the candidate whom Lyons supports.

Lyons repeatedly forged Cooper's signature on financial documents. Despite testifying at Lyons' trial about the forgeries, Cooper, the general secretary of the NBC, has remained loyal to Lyons.

Hill has been the most vocal defender of the former president. He stood behind Lyons throughout his criminal investigation and protected his job until Lyons resigned after his conviction in February.

In return, Lyons has given Hill his unequivocal endorsement from jail. Lyons even wrote a letter in support of the candidate, urging people to vote for him during today's election.

"That day, I will sit in my cell and pray at my bunk all day and night until God gives us the victory that we need in this chosen leader, Dr. E.V. Hill," Lyons wrote in a letter mailed from his St. Petersburg church to pastors around the country.

Lyons also wrote that the NBC's national board of directors asked Hill to run and promised that they would back his candidacy.

"I write this letter to you this day as I sit under unusual and heavy circumstances. Like Joseph, who had to wait on the hand of God to move. Like Job, under cruel conditions ... "

Copies of the letter had been handed out at the Tampa Convention Center during the past few days of the NBC's annual meeting.

Unlike many of their opponents who promised to reform the ways of the convention, Hill and Cooper had said there is little wrong with it, and that Lyons made improvements during his tenure.
Post Sun Mar 11, 2018 11:28 am 
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El Supremo

Lyons denied early release
Supporters seek a shorter sentence for him, but a circuit court judge says she has dispensed all the mercy she can.


St. Petersburg Times, published August 19, 1999

ST. PETERSBURG -- They came to court Wednesday with pleas of mercy for the ailing body and spirit of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons.

Lyons His supporters described the St. Petersburg minister, the former robust leader of a nation of Baptists, as an ill, humiliated man broken by four months in prison, barely recognizable to those who know him best.

"When he looks to me now, he looks away in shame," Lyons' son, Derek Lyons, told a judge. "His fall from grace has been total and unrecoverable."

But Lyons, 57, the judge said, had already received a measure of mercy and wouldn't receive the benefit of another.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer refused a request by Lyons' attorneys to reduce by up to 15 months the 51/2-year sentence she imposed on him March 31 for his state racketeering and grand theft convictions.

As she announced her decision during a 90-minute hearing, Lyons prayed in a prison chapel near Ocala, where he is serving his time, his lawyers say.

Schaeffer said she could have sentenced Lyons to just over eight years in prison but decided at his March sentencing that a lifetime of good deeds had earned the former president of the National Baptist Convention USA a lesser penalty.

"That was my attempt at mercy," said the judge, who agreed that Lyons is probably rehabilitated.

The judge said she read more than 120 letters from Lyons' supporters but decided an early release would send the wrong message to "the high and mighty" who might someday consider violating a position of trust just as Lyons did.

She also remarked about letters from children who support Lyons, children who might also hear a poor message if Lyons is freed early, Schaeffer said.

"When they get older and they have the chance to make their own choices in life ... they need to be told no matter who you are, no matter if you're rich or poor, no matter if you're black or white, no matter if you're Christian or Jew ... if you don't live within the law you will go to a place like Dr. Lyons went; a place that brings out illness ... a place where you'll live among murderers and thieves, a place that isn't pretty. "To me," Schaeffer said, "he received a fair and just sentence."

Some of the letters to Schaeffer say that Lyons is a shadow of his former self and has lost as many as 50 pounds and suffers from tuberculosis.

In fact, Lyons does not currently suffer from the highly contagious respiratory disease.

Lyons' attorney, Denis de Vlaming, told Schaeffer that Lyons' prison medical records show he tested positive for a TB antibody, which means that he may have been exposed to tuberculosis while imprisoned.

As a precaution, de Vlaming said, prison doctors have placed Lyons on antibiotics and vitamins.

A TB specialist at the Pinellas County Health Department said in an interview that about 10 percent of those who test positive for the tuberculosis antibody will eventually contract the disease.

"Most people don't understand that testing positive doesn't mean you have TB," said Rob Berger, a county TB program manager.

Schaeffer said she might have been inclined to give Lyons a lesser sentence if he suffered from an incurable, terminal disease.

But the judge said she, as much as anybody, knows that TB, once considered fatal, is now highly treatable. Her own mother suffered from the disease yet survived into her late 60s.

While some letters to the judge said Lyons has lost 50 pounds in prison, medical records show Lyons has actually lost about 20 pounds.

The letters to the court also touch on something else that neither Lyons' family nor lawyers discussed inside or outside of court:

A rift in the minister's family.

"His family is shamefully divided and they have separated. I wish for him to be released if for nothing less than to get his personal life in order," supporter W.K. Dorthees said in a letter to Schaeffer.

In another letter, Lyons' daughter Stephanie said, "My family is now a dysfunctional unit because of our head member's imprisonment."

Lyons' attorneys say they know nothing of such talk. Deborah Lyons, his wife, could not be reached for comment. She did not attend the hearing, though she wrote Schaeffer a letter asking for her husband's early release.

Lyons' attorneys also said they knew nothing about the "For Sale" sign in front of the home Lyons owns with his wife at 45th Street S.

When Lyons pleaded guilty to federal fraud and tax evasion charges this year, the $232,000 house was the one possession Lyons wasn't forced to forfeit to compensate his victims.

In a three-page letter to Schaeffer, Lyons told the judge that he yielded to temptation and that prison has taught him "the obvious trip of self importance that I was on."

"My lessons here in prison are hard and well learned and earned," he wrote. "I have paid the price for my sins and crimes, and I'm still paying that price."

Schaeffer said he will keep paying that price until the day he is released.

"Prison isn't a country club," she said. "It isn't meant to be."

-- Times staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.
Post Sun Mar 11, 2018 11:35 am 
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El Supremo

Bethel needs to let Lyons go
The church should not hold the pulpit open for the imprisoned pastor's return, as he is asking it to do.

St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000

Whenever someone who has pulled himself from obscurity to the brink of greatness falls, the sound is sickening.

It is the droning wail of unfulfilled promise, the heart-rending sound of respectability shattering, the whimper of admiration painfully giving birth to contempt.

It is the reverberating sound of the Rev. Henry Lyons' fall from grace, of the esteemed becoming the pathetic.

[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
On July 11, 1997, Henry Lyons holds a press conference upon his return from Africa. He said he was innocent, the victim of reporters attacking him because of his race.
In the end, it is a sound that we must listen to, put in perspective, and move on.

Fail that and the sound can shape emotions that dominate reason. Mistakes are built that way, mistakes like the one Lyons' old church, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist in St. Petersburg, runs the risk of making.

Roughly a year and a half into his five-year federal prison sentence, Henry Lyons wants his old job back. In a handwritten letter, he is asking the "Church Family and Official Board" to save the pulpit for him. Incredibly, some members want to. Several of them are key figures in Bethel's leadership who risk losing their positions trying to save his, so great is the division within the church.

The tragedy of Henry Lyons' fall, it would seem, is still finding victims.

* * *

"When I think about how good God has been to me. The work he placed in my hands. For me to repay the Lord with such foolish behavior on my part. To let so many people down and ruin my Father's good name which I labored so hard to exalt. Oh, how foolish, how foolish I was!"

* * *

Those words are from the letter dated Sept. 30 that Lyons sent to members of his church.

They arrived more than three years late.

They would have been strong words when Lyons returned from a trip to Africa to a world clamoring for answers after a fire exposed a shady, but not yet criminal, side to his life.

Instead, at a press conference orchestrated in a manner more befitting John Gotti than a man of God, he chose denial and the shallow accusation that the media were digging up his dirt because he was a prosperous black man.

The sound was sickening.

In more than 20 years of interviewing everything from baby killers to Klansmen, from rapists of children to wife beaters, I have often felt disgust and revulsion. But I had never been left feeling so personally offended.

Times reporters accumulated a considerable amount of information on Lyons' life and questionable dealings. I searched for holes in it.

I talked often with the reporters -- most of them white -- studying them for signs of too much glee when some new, unflattering revelation was uncovered.

It was important to assure myself that the newspaper with which I was associated was not guilty of overzealously pursuing a villain because he was black. It was not. It was pursuing Lyons because he was prominent and he messed up.

Lyons' claim of racism insulted the multitudes of its real victims, but that was not his greatest offense.

That came when he used his legendary prowess on the pulpit, his standing in the eyes of his congregation and the veneer of piety to deceive his church into supporting his lies. He deceived people who looked to him for guidance.

His recent letter leaves the same feeling that the sermon he called a press conference did, except that it owns up to wrongdoing. It begins with contrition and repentance, and Lyons' assertion that God has spoken directly to him in prison, to confer His forgiveness.

In short order, it moves to castigating the church for declaring the pulpit vacant before he had a chance to exhaust his appeals. Then he asks his former congregation to hold his job open for him.

The letter, like the press conference and the life choices that started his troubles, is selfish and pompous. Worse, it has his former church in an uproar.

Notes from a recent church meeting indicate that five church officials are in danger of losing their positions for steadfastly trying to hold the pulpit for Lyons' return. Members who attended that meeting voted overwhelmingly to relieve those key church leaders of their duties.

Attempts to discuss any of this with church leaders not only failed, but failed to turn up a church leader.

A woman who answered the phone at the church would not identify herself before she transferred the call to another woman, who also would not identify herself. "You need to address any questions about that to the chairman of the church board," she said. And who is that person? She said that question and any others needed to be faxed to the church, and they would be given to the right person.

The response to the faxed questions was short: "Our church's business is not public business. Therefore, there will be no comment made from the officials of this church to questions listed in your fax."

It is an understandable response. This is a proud church, with a history that stretches almost a century, with a congregation that numbers 1,500 strong. Though it has performed innumerable services for its community, it has not been a darling of the press in the last couple of years.

But its negative press was by association, and as long as Henry Lyons remains affiliated with the church, its business, unfortunately, will be public business.

That is why it needs to let go of Henry Lyons.

That is also why Henry Lyons needs to let go of the church. Some members loyal to him need him to do that.

The church can't remain great in its hunkered-down posture.

It would be refreshing to see someone at Bethel soon stand up and say, "Bethel is a great church that had a great pastor who made some mistakes. Now Bethel is a great church with a new pastor."

And it would be a pleasant, positive sound for a change to hear that once-great pastor put the needs of his beloved Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church ahead of his own and seek to recapture his greatness somewhere else
Post Sun Mar 11, 2018 11:40 am 
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El Supremo

Lyons' replacement has outstanding warrants
Church members say they didn't know their new pastor had problems with the law when they elected him 200-49.

St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Joaquin Marvin, the man elected to replace the Rev. Henry J. Lyons as head of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, has two outstanding warrants for his arrest, the Department of Corrections says.

The warrants, both for probation violation, date back to 1991 and were never entered into the statewide computer system, said Debbie Buchanan, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections.

"A judge in Escambia County signed the warrants. We took them to the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, but somehow, there was a mix-up at the sheriff's office and those warrants were never entered into the system. That confusion has been taken care of," Buchanan said.

A spokesman for the Escambia County Sheriff's Office said the charges are not serious.

"This is not like a violent crime," Sgt. Tony Bain said.

"I think that the warrants, being as old as they are, there's not going to be an active search for him. Pretty much, at this point, somebody is just going to have to run across him."

In that event, Marvin could be arrested and taken to jail, Bain said.

Marvin, an associate minister at Greater Union Baptist Church in Pensacola, could not be reached Monday.

Marvin, 35, was sentenced to two years of community control in 1991 for forgery. Records from the Department of Law Enforcement indicate that he also was arrested several times between 1986 and 1991 on charges that included shoplifting, assault and possession of crack and marijuana.

He was elected pastor of Bethel Metropolitan during a regular meeting late Friday. He replaces Lyons, former president of the National Baptist Convention USA, who is in prison for racketeering and grand theft.

The vote to hire Marvin was 200-49. One dissenter said she planned to ask the board of deacons to rescind the decision.

"I was one of the 49," said Maggie Davis, a member of the church for almost two decades.

"This is the lowest blow Bethel has had.

We needed somebody with an unblemished record. If this was going to happen, we could have waited for Dr. Lyons," she said.

"I don't want to lower myself to this. I taught my children not to do these things. What kind of an example is this setting for the young people?"

Former City Council member Frank Shorter, who had praised the election of the new pastor, said he was shocked to learn of Marvin's criminal past.

"I think they're going to have to rethink that," he said of Marvin's hiring. "Nothing like this was mentioned at the meeting. Someone mentioned to me that he had a traffic violation, a speeding ticket or something. The assault charge, I'd like to know more about it."

One of Marvin's strongest supporters is the Rev. Joseph Harvey, an assistant minister at Bethel Metropolitan. He denied that the new pastor's past had been hidden from the congregation.

"They had a special committee to select the minister. They do not usually expose what they discover if there is a criminal history," he said.

Harvey said the church has sent Marvin a letter confirming his appointment, but does not know when the new pastor will begin his job.

Speaking Monday, Harvey said, "Everybody at church yesterday was still in favor of him coming. It has been over 10 years. His criminal past has no affect on his preaching. I don't know one preacher that hasn't done something wrong."

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Post Sun Mar 11, 2018 11:44 am 
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El Supremo

Lyons' former church debates his leadership
The convicted minister has kept in touch with his church in St. Petersburg, but some in the congregation want to move on.

St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, former head of the National Baptist Convention USA, already has been stripped of his freedom and his national stature.

Now, a debate will determine whether Lyons could lose perhaps one of his last credentials as a religious leader: the pulpit at Bethel Metropolitan Church in St. Petersburg.

About 250 people turned out at the church for a 21/2-hour meeting Thursday to argue whether Lyons, imprisoned on racketeering and grand theft convictions, should have a role in leading the 1,500-member congregation.

The argument focuses on whether the pulpit should be left open for Lyons or filled by someone else. Some Lyons opponents say loyalists still control key positions in the church and are being manipulated by the imprisoned minister.

That criticism continued after the meeting ended Thursday, with Lyons opponents complaining they were not allowed to vote on the church's future.

"We saw dictatorship in its rarest form in the Baptist church," said Joseph Harvey, an assistant minister who hopes to oust Lyons.

He said the meeting was very contentious, with Lyons' backers in control. Reporters were not allowed inside.

Harvey said his group hopes to be able to vote on whether to retain current key leaders at a church business meeting scheduled for Sept. 29. Those who oppose the current leadership were asked to write down their concerns and submit them to the church's deacon board.

Ronald Davis, chairman of Bethel's deacon board, refused to comment before the meeting Thursday.

Lyons' troubles began in 1997 when his wife, Deborah Lyons, was arrested for setting fire to a Tierra Verde home she discovered her husband had purchased with another woman, Bernice Edwards.

That arson set in motion two years of revelations about the then-president of the nation's largest black church organization and his financial dealings using the convention's name.

In 1999, he was convicted of racketeering and grand theft and began serving his sentence in a prison near Ocala.

But Lyons has remained involved in the church, and regularly calls associates, according to Harvey.

For years, as a driver and an assistant, Harvey accompanied Lyons as he headed the Florida Baptist General Convention. He traveled with Lyons as a special assistant and was a confidant when Lyons was elected president of the NBC.

And Harvey continued to stand by Lyons right up to the day the preacher was sent to prison for five years.

Now, Harvey thinks the church, which celebrates its 97th anniversary this month, should end all association with Lyons, though he acknowledges that could be a formidable task.

"There are a lot of supporters of the previous administration under Dr. Lyons, who are for, some reason or another, indebted to Dr. Lyons and desire to have him come back," Harvey said.

"But according to the bylaws and constitution of our church, once someone has committed an act like he has, basically it severs and cuts all ties from the church. A lot of people really don't see that. They misconstrue the Scriptures."

Harvey said a pulpit search committee, in place for about a year, has done little toward hiring a replacement for Lyons.

Shortly after the minister was sent to prison, a congregational meeting was held and the majority of church members said they wanted a new pastor, Harvey said.

"The deacon board at that time was trying to insist that the church keep the pulpit open. There was such an uproar that night that the deacons backed down," he said.

At that same gathering, members voted to take Lyons' name off the church building, its buses and his office door, Harvey added.

But such actions did not diminish Lyons' power, according to Harvey and another assistant pastor, Shawn Washington. Lyons continued to run the church from prison, giving instructions by phone and in person to the people he trusted.

"He calls three times a week," Harvey said. "I know definitely he calls every Wednesday. I've answered the phone. He calls collect."

Harvey and his supporters also insist that key officials at the church are expecting Lyons to be put on a work-release program in January and hope the preacher will be allowed to fulfill that obligation at the church.

Recently, attorneys for the former Baptist leader filed court papers seeking to cut as much as 16 months from his five-year state prison sentence, arguing that Lyons should serve his sentence under older, more generous prison rules granting inmates time off for good behavior.

"We have no comments in regards to any of the pending legal issues," Jay Hebert, Lyons' attorney, said Thursday when asked about the work-release program.

"It is certainly Rev. Lyons' strong desire to return to St. Petersburg. It is his home and he very much would like to return to pastoring," Hebert said.

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Post Sun Mar 11, 2018 11:50 am 
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El Supremo

After New Salem Missionary Baptist's building in downtown burned in 2015, the congregation built a new church in Temple Terrace. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] After New Salem Missionary Baptist's building in downtown burned in 2015, the congregation built a new church in Temple Terrace. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] Henry and Willie Lyons live in this 3,000-square foot home in a golf-and-country-club community in New Tampa. They both drive BMWs. [ANDRES LEIVA | Times] The Rev. Henry Lyons sits in his study in his New Tampa home. He was fired as pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church on June 15. A Times investigation reveals a pattern of Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control. [ANDRES LEIVA | Times] Pastor Henry Lyons, 75, displays his collection of legal tender in a room of his New Tampa home. A Times investigation found Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control. [Times Photo | Corey G. Johnson] Pastor Henry Lyons, 75, displays his collection of legal tender in a room of his New Tampa home. A Times investigation found Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control. [Times Photo | Corey G. Johnson] Pastor Henry Lyons, 75, displays his collection of legal tender in a room of his New Tampa home. A Times investigation found Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control. [Times Photo | Corey G. Johnson] Pastor Henry Lyons, 75, displays his collection of legal tender in a room of his New Tampa home. A Times investigation found Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control. [Times Photo | Corey G. Johnson] Pastor Henry Lyons, 75, displays his collection of legal tender in a room of his New Tampa home. A Times investigation found Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control. [Times Photo | Corey G. Johnson] Pastor Henry Lyons, 75, displays his collection of legal tender in a room of his New Tampa home. A Times investigation found Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control. [Times Photo | Corey G. Johnson] Pastor Henry Lyons, 75, displays his collection of legal tender in a room of his New Tampa home. A Times investigation found Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control. [Times Photo | Corey G. Johnson]

John Romano
Times Columnist
Published: July 7, 2017Updated: July 11, 2017 at 12:50 AM

TAMPA The church was in distress and likely heading to ruin.

Loan defaults and foreclosure proceedings had the members of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in fear of losing their historic building on the edge of downtown Tampa. Elderly worshippers on fixed incomes were implored to donate more and more to save the church from potential calamity.

Yet unbeknownst to New Salem leaders during this time, a fund designed for churchgoers in financial crisis was being used to quietly direct tens of thousands of dollars to Pastor Henry J. Lyons, as well as to non-profit organizations he created, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

On the surface this is a story of disputed money, but it's also a tale of broken trust. Lyons, 75, was the leader of the nation's largest black church group in the 1990s, a mover and shaker whose pursuit of a lavish lifestyle led to fraud and racketeering convictions that landed him in prison for nearly five years. And New Salem is the small, oft-struggling church that offered an infamous preacher a chance at redemption.

While he never had direct access to New Salem accounts during his dozen-plus years there, a months-long Times investigation reveals a pattern of Lyons orchestrating transactions that shifted money away from the church and into accounts under his control.

Among the findings:

The New Salem benevolence fund, which is intended to support church members in need, provided more than $76,000 directly to Henry Lyons, his wife, Willie, or to non-profits run by Lyons from 2013-17. That's nearly 83 percent of the money spent by the fund during that time.

Federal money routed to New Salem for HIV awareness programs was subsequently sent to a non-profit run by Lyons, while thousands of dollars were paid directly to Willie and Henry Lyons in administrative fees.

Lyons, who owes millions in restitution payments tied to his income level, accepted a reduced salary at New Salem and instead had the church mail thousands of dollars a year to First Baptist Institutional in Lakeland, ostensibly to fund programs for troubled black youth. Except the Lakeland pastor said nearly all of the money disbursed from that account eventually found its way back to Henry or Willie Lyons as "reimbursements'' for expenses.

While living a lifestyle filled with luxury cars, a prized coin collection and a large home in New Tampa, Lyons has doled out a paltry sum to his previous victims. From 2004 to 2015, Lyons paid the equivalent of a grocery bill an average of $300 a month to be split among the five companies he defrauded, while making thousands in consulting fees and donations from speaking engagements.

All of which could draw the attention of the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is in charge of collecting roughly $5 million in restitution from Lyons' 1999 convictions in state and federal courts.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times The Rev. Henry Lyons, former pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, stands with his wife, Willie, in their Tampa home. Lyons was fired on June 15 and Mrs. Lyons was removed as head of the church's day care program.

During an interview with the Times on June 16, and later through an attorney, the Lyonses say they have done nothing wrong. They say the allegations were manufactured by a handful of unhappy church members.

"Rev. and Mrs. Lyons deny any improprieties regarding the payments to First Baptist Institutional and payments out of New Salem's benevolence fund, and deny any claim or inference that such payments were made without the knowledge and approval of the trustees and deacons of New Salem,'' said Tampa lawyer Vit Gulbis, who was hired by Lyons three weeks ago.

Citing financial improprieties, New Salem fired Lyons as pastor on June 15 and removed Willie Lyons, 60, as head of the church's day care program. The Times has previously reported that the FBI has begun interviewing church officials and requesting financial documents.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: The struggle for the soul of Henry Lyons.

To be sure, this is not the Rolls Royce-driving, mansion-buying, sex-titillating story of Lyons' previous life when he was president of the powerful National Baptist Convention and pastor of St. Petersburg's Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church. These allegations don't compare to the million-dollar crimes that led to Lyons' convictions in both state and federal courts.

But in one respect, this could be worse.

The financial victims in Lyons' convictions were mostly corporations and the IRS. This time he is being accused of profiting at the expense of the very churchgoers who offered him a second chance after he was released from prison in 2003.

"This is one slick cat, man. I don't know how you take advantage of people like that,'' said Rufus Spencer, former president of the church and a onetime Lyons supporter.

"It's like, 'Dude, do you sit up at night thinking of ways to do (stuff)?' I just don't see why you want to come and do people like that, especially people that had taken you in.''

To understand why the church placed so much faith in Lyons, hiring him just months after he left prison, a little background is necessary.

At the time Lyons was released, New Salem was a mess. Infighting had led to the previous pastor's departure as well as a dramatic drop in church membership.

If hiring a new pastor with a checkered past was a risk, church members felt it was worth it to acquire someone with Lyons' star quality.

The phrase church members used at the time: A broken pastor for a broken church.

Hired for a modest $400 a week, he was promised that his salary would escalate if he could increase the church's membership. And that's exactly what he did.

Within a few years, New Salem went from an average of 50 people in the pews to more than 700 worshippers on the church rolls. New Salem leaders were emboldened enough to buy property near Interstate 4 and Sligh Avenue in 2007, with plans to build a more spacious and modern facility.

What they didn't count on was the nation's economic downturn.

When money got tight, the church started losing assets it had used to secure loans. By 2011, the bank had foreclosed on the 43 acres the church had purchased on Sligh. The parsonage, a house used by the pastor and visiting preachers, was also seized. And now a bank had begun foreclosure proceedings against the church's main building near the University of Tampa.

For more than three years, the church battled to stave off foreclosure. Week after week, members were told their tithes were not enough. More money was needed to save New Salem.

What church members did not know is that starting in 2013, while still facing foreclosure, an inexplicable amount of money was flowing through the benevolence account.

Alongside checks of $25, $75 and $100 written to members to help pay electric bills or car loans, there were much larger payouts, such as a $6,000 check written to Breach Ministries, a charity Lyons created. Another $3,700 written to National Trusted Partners, a national Baptist organization Lyons started. Another $3,700 written to Lyons himself.

In all, more than $42,000 in checks were written just to Breach out of this account between 2013 and 2015, according to a church ledger the Times obtained. Lyons and his wife received more than $18,000 from 2014 to 2017. National Trusted Partners got nearly $11,000. Church leaders say it is unclear how that much money got into an account that normally had a $3,000 balance.

A check register, above, shows payments to Breach Ministries, National Trusted Partners and Dr. Henry Lyons Below are examples of checks paid to Lyons and Breach Ministries, a nonprofit charity created by Lyons. A former church secretary says Lyons directed her to pay a fee to himself and Breach Ministries when the church received government and private grant funds.

The checks were written by an elderly deacon who told church officials he was following the pastor's orders.

"None of that was approved by the board,'' said New Salem chief financial officer Cheryl Carpenter, who is married to associate pastor Robert Carpenter. "Even though Rev. Lyons may have had control over that account, (the board) should have been informed about money going to his charity.

"That's the problem. That's the issue,'' she said. ''No one knew about this money coming out of benevolence and going to Breach Ministries.''

Carpenter said she asked for full disclosure of all church accounts when she took over as chief financial officer in 2015. She never saw the benevolence account until after Lyons was terminated.

"Based on their reactions, I'd say (church officials) were appalled at what was going on,'' Carpenter said. "It was very disheartening to see this activity had been taking place based on the church's (finances) at that time.''

Henry and Willie Lyons have told the Times that trustees and deacons were fully aware of all financial transactions that were taking place between the church, New Salem Ministries and the Lyons charities.

So what, exactly, is Breach Ministries?

It's an idea Lyons came up with while still in prison. While reading the Bible, he came across a passage in Isaiah 58 that he said inspired him to help others facing hardship in their lives:

Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;

You will raise up the age-old foundations;

And you will be called the repairer of the breach

"I discovered that while I was incarcerated,'' Lyons told the Times in an interview the day after his termination. "This isn't verbatim, but it (said) there's a tear here in a wall, a breach. So people like me sought to mend that breach, so that hole will not be there in his life or her life.''

Willie Lyons said her husband wanted to ensure that the young men he came across in prison had someone to turn to when trying to start their lives over.

"That's what was in his heart when he started this,'' she said.

Yet for all the money that flowed from the church to Breach, the charity seems to have little presence anywhere. No website. No Facebook page. Some New Salem leaders had never even heard of it.

From a distance, the gesture looks selfless. Perhaps even noble.

Almost from the time Lyons began at New Salem, church officials say he wanted a hefty chunk of money sent to another church in lieu of a larger salary for himself.

Alex Harper is pastor of First Baptist Institutional Church in Lakeland.
So every month, a check was sent to First Baptist Institutional Church in Lakeland. This was the church Lyons visited hours after his release from prison. The church where he and Willie married on Easter in 2004. The church of Pastor Alex Harper, who had ministered to Lyons during his prison term.

The money, according to Harper, was for Lyons' Breach Ministries. He said Lyons wanted the money to be used as a lifeline for young, black men in trouble.

There is scant evidence of that happening.

Harper, who is on the board of directors for Breach, says he has never been notified of any board meetings taking place. He didn't recognize the names of several other board members, and he has no direct knowledge of any programs that were started or supported. He also could not name a single person in need who benefitted from the fund.

When shown a program from New Salem's 100th anniversary that included a congratulatory ad from Breach ministries with a photo identifying Harper as the charity's president, he said he had no knowledge of the ad and had never served as president.

"I really didn't have anything to do with the actual function of the ministry of the Breach program,'' Harper said. "(Willie) was in charge.''

The way the fund worked, Harper said, was Willie or Henry Lyons would send him a requisition detailing their expenses for charity work, and he would reimburse them with a check.

In other words, all of the money flowed back to the Lyons family.

Based on New Salem bookkeeping accounts inspected by the Times, a total of $29,500 was sent to First Baptist Institutional from 2004-08. Another $43,712 was sent from 2010-14.

That's more than $73,000 that was not included in Lyons' salary, and thus would not have been used by the U.S. Attorney's Office to calculate restitution payments.

Meanwhile, New Salem's books show the money going to First Baptist Institutional and not to Breach Ministries. There's a reason for that. Harper said the account is his discretionary fund as pastor and does not have Breach's name attached to it.

Which leads to other questions:

If the money was meant for Breach, why wasn't it deposited directly into the Breach account controlled by Lyons? And why was it necessary for Willie and Henry Lyons to spend money out of their own pockets for Breach expenses and then get reimbursed from an unofficial Breach account?

Harper says the oddities of the arrangement should have raised a red flag for him. He also acknowledged he was allowed to dip into the fund to pay himself for incidental expenses.

"You can be nave about things and do things without a whole lot of thought just because you know somebody,'' Harper said. "I know I did not do this in a real efficient, business way. I should have been asking, "What about this,' and "What about that?' ''

When asked to explain the arrangement, Lyons' attorney said it was the first he had heard of it.

"Is there a legitimate reason to do it? I don't know,'' Gulbis said. "I'll agree with you, it's an unusual arrangement.''

Later, after talking to Lyons, Gulbis said the pastor insisted there was nothing improper about the payments.

The money from New Salem stopped arriving at Harper's church in late 2014. Harper said he does not recall any conversations about why the arrangement ended, but said all of the funds are long gone.

Speaking on June 16, Willie Lyons told the Times it was not unusual for her husband to turn down paychecks.

"This is how he is when he has money coming to him,'' Willie said. "He'll say, 'No, just give it to Breach. I'll put it there so it can help somebody else.' ''

The idea was to address poverty and despair in West Tampa. To be a source of hope in a downtrodden neighborhood. At least, that was the goal when the church established New Salem Ministries in 2003.

Some say the results turned out differently.

When New Salem Ministries began receiving grant money around 2010, former church secretary Wynie Anderson said Lyons would give her specific instructions on how to dole out the funds: She would write a check to one of his charities, another check to Lyons himself, and finally a smaller check to herself.

"I can't stand the sight of that man because I know what he's about. He's about money,'' Anderson said. "If he can't figure out a way to make money, he don't want nothing to do with it.''

It's not unusual for an organization to take an allowable portion of grant money to cover administrative costs. Willie Lyons said any money distributed to her and her husband out of New Salem Ministries as "consultants'' was well within the percentages allowed.

For instance, she said New Salem received an HIV grant for three years. If the money had been misappropriated, she said, the grant would not have been renewed.

"We did health fairs, we did workshops, we did testing events,'' she said. "They were monitoring (us) and looking for specific information. So if there were funds issued that were not appropriate they would have reprimanded us, or they would not have let us reapply.''

Church officials, however, say these funds were distributed out of the New Salem Ministries account without the board's knowledge or approval. Invoices indicate at least $16,390 was sent from New Salem Ministries to Breach Ministries to perform HIV-related tasks and programs.

The church asked Lyons and his wife to produce records that showed how much grant money was received and how it was dispersed, according to Ray Melendez, chairman of New Salem's board of trustees.

"They said, "We have the records, give us time to get them together,' '' Melendez said. "So we gave them a certain amount of time to come up with the records. We revisited that, and they still didn't have it ready. So they asked to extend it, and we said, "No, the time has come.' ''

The church said few were aware the grant money had even been awarded, let alone was being redirected to Breach.

"Are there any contracts between us and Breach Ministries that we would donate to this charity?,'' Carpenter said. "The answer to that would be no.''

While Lyons was not directly associated with any church bank accounts, he instructed at least two officials to write checks to him or his charities, according to interviews. Often, the people writing the checks were told to give themselves a stipend for their work.

"You know the kind of people who say the pastor can do no wrong? Those are the people he started looking for,'' said Spencer, the church deacon. "He started moving us out and putting in people that he could kind of control. But anything he did, he made sure no alarms were raised.''

Secrecy, compartmentalization and vague bookkeeping made it hard for anyone to have a thorough understanding of the church's finances, according to multiple church officials and documents. It eventually led an outside CPA to part ways in 2011, and prompted her to write a letter suggesting the church was headed toward trouble.

Tracie Lowe said too many reimbursement checks were non-specific and missing verifying documentation. Without proper receipts those reimbursements should be considered salary, she wrote.

"Estimation of the reimbursement is a failure of accounting policy to match exactly the receipt detail to the expense,'' Lowe wrote in a letter obtained by the Times. "This policy would mostly affect income for Dr. Henry Lyons.''

It would take six more years after Lowe resigned as the church's CPA , but the intervention of another outside group of auditors would prove to be Lyons' downfall at New Salem.

Church leaders wanted a management firm out of Atlanta to take a hard look at the church's books. Lyons was hesitant to cooperate even after the firm was hired. And when church trustees wanted the firm to inspect the day care center's books, Henry and Willie Lyons refused.

That's when church elders began diving deeper into the finances themselves.

New Salem, by this point, had been saved from potential foreclosure.

The downtown building was destroyed by an early morning fire in February, 2015, and the insurance settlement and subsequent sale of the land allowed New Salem to pay off its debts and buy a new building in Temple Terrace.

The fire's cause was never determined.

Associated Press (1999)The Rev. Henry Lyons, right, walks into the Pinellas County Courthouse in March 1999 with his then-wife Deborah, center, and church members for sentencing after being convicted last month of racketeering and grand theft. He spent nearly five years in prison.

He spoke of a life that was no longer his own. He answered not to the name his father gave him, but to a number the state assigned him. He was told when to wake, what to wear and when to sleep. Except, in those days, sleep rarely came.

Henry J. Lyons had already spent months in prison on state charges in 1999 when he appeared before a district judge in Tampa to ask for mercy on his federal sentence.

"I don't have a lot of time to right all the wrongs that I've done,'' Lyons told Judge Henry Lee Adams. "If I was in my twenties, time would be on my side. But as I look at it now, time is not on my side because in my way of calculating things, I need to do at least 100 good deeds for every one of these bad deeds. I need time to do that. I need time to correct these wrongs.''

From a pure financial standpoint, it is unlikely Lyons will ever make good on that pledge. It is a simple algorithm of debt, age and salary. The first is too high, the second is too advanced and the third is too low.

But that doesn't mean his restitution is inconsequential.

He owes the corporations he once swindled. He owes the IRS for taxes he did not pay. He even owes the court for the cost of bringing him to trial. All told, the principal balance on his restitution as of June 30 was $4,979,970.91. If you include the interest, it's well north of $5 million.

There was a time when Lyons had plenty of cash at his fingertips. As the leader of the National Baptist Convention, he was courted by corporations and politicians seeking his favor. He owned multiple homes and spent freely on luxuries.

But his lavish lifestyle went up in flames exactly 20 years ago this week. After discovering he had purchased a Tierra Verde home with a woman later identified as his mistress, Lyons' former wife tried to set the house on fire.

The subsequent publicity shined a light on his lifestyle and, within a year, Lyons was facing charges of swindling a bank, a national funeral home company and others who had business dealings with the NBC. He was convicted in state court in Pinellas County and later agreed to a plea deal in federal court in Tampa that included restitution payments.

Since late in 2015, Lyons has been making monthly payments of $929.45 and another $178.35 is garnished from his Social Security checks. That translates to $13,293.60 a year.

The U.S. Attorney's office will not speak about individual cases, but officials say they typically do not seek more than 25 percent of a person's income.

The amount Lyons is currently paying would translate to an annual income of $52,956 if he were, indeed, paying 25 percent. Based on New Salem Baptist books viewed by the Times, Lyons made roughly $38,000 in salary in 2014. If you add another $14,300 in Social Security, that would bring his income to around $52,300.

So that would seem close to the acceptable range. Unless Lyons has additional sources of income.

A few years after being released from prison, Lyons ran for president of the Florida General Baptist Convention. He lost, and a month later created his own state convention called the General Baptist State Convention of Florida. A couple of years later he again ran for president of the NBC. He lost, and instead formed National Trusted Partners for Christ.

His own conventions have only a fraction of the membership of the old organizations that he once ran. There's likely no more than a couple of dozen churches in his state convention.

But churches in both the state and national conventions are expected to pay fees. They often bring cash offerings to the altar when Lyons is presiding over a convention service or seminar, according to New Salem members who have attended events.

Through his attorney, Lyons said he received no salary or compensation from the conventions or Breach Ministries.

The financial litigation unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa monitors restitution cases such as the one involving Lyons. How closely it follows depends on a case's priority, which is based on how much is owed and the likelihood of recovery .

The U.S. Attorney's Office would not categorize Lyons' priority, saying only they "have a strong, ongoing interest.'' And would the office consider it a problem if someone was not disclosing income sources?

"We do take that seriously,'' said Anita Cream, head of the office's asset recovery division. "That is a criminal violation itself, making a false statement to the government.''

The day he walked away from prison in 2003, Lyons looked to be in financial ruin.

Just two years earlier, he claimed in court documents to have no assets and $7.8 million in debts when filing for divorce from then-wife Deborah.

Aside from his disgraced tenure as a preacher and one-time leader of the National Baptist Convention, the most recent entry on his resume in 2003 was an $8-an-hour job as a clerk/janitor in a Lakeland funeral home where he spent five months in a work-release program.

His fortunes began to turn when he married Willie, who owned her own home in Lakeland, and when he was hired to rejuvenate New Salem Baptist Church.

The Henry J. Lyons of 2017 now lives in a 3,000-square foot home in a golf-and-country-club community in New Tampa. He and Willie both drive BMWs. He has an amateur coin collection in his home office, and his big screen TV is supplemented with a floor-to-ceiling sound system.

The $137,304.73 he owes in court costs in Pinellas County has not included a single payment in more than a decade.

ANDRES LEIVA | TimesLyons holds a bowl of what he called his rarest coins, pennies and other assorted change that he has found while walking.
In a room decorated with money, the bowl of coins is relatively worthless. Unless, perhaps, you consider the insight these stray pennies and dimes provide into the psyche of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons.

Here, in his home office, Lyons can relax among the framed, enlarged copies of paper currency. There are prized coins, faux gold bars and other collectibles.

Yet in a shrine to legal tender, Lyons seems most proud of a bowl of loose change he has picked up from sidewalks, parking lots and who-knows-where. He read once that, at any given time, there is $3 million lying on the ground, just waiting to be found.

The search for money, presumably, continues.

Senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Corey G. Johnson at cjohnson@tampabay.com. Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com.
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