Thieving reverend sobs his apologies

Sydney Morning Herald, March 18, 1999

St Petersburg, Florida: The Rev Henry Lyons, president of one of the United States's largest and most influential black denominations, sobbed and apologised as he resigned yesterday, two weeks after being convicted of swindling more than $US4 million ($6.4 million).

"I'm just so sorry about all of this," he said at a news conference outside his Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, where he told the board of the National Baptist Convention USA of his decision.

"I'm truly repentant about it. I hate that I hurt so many people," he said, his voice breaking.

Other ministers surrounded him, saying: "You're not alone."

"I appreciate it," he said as he began sobbing.

The Rev E.V. Hill, who will run for president at the convention's next elections in September, patted Mr Lyons on the back, saying: "We forgave any errors you have made. We love you."

Mr Lyons's wife, Deborah, and defence attorney Mr Denis de Vlaming then helped lead him back into the church where he has been pastor for the past 27 years.

Mr Lyons, 57, is awaiting sentencing on March 31. He faces three to seven years in prison. He is also expected to plead guilty to similar Federal charges.

He was convicted on February 27 of racketeering for swindling corporations seeking to do business with convention members. The defence described the transactions as failed business deals, not crimes.

Prosecutors say Mr Lyons duped businesses by claiming the convention had 8.5 million members when the real number was about 1 million. He also was convicted of stealing almost $US250,000 which the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith had donated to rebuild burned black churches in the South.

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