The Lyons chronology

The Tampa Tribune, February 26, 1998
By Buddy Jaudon and Gail Bray

  • July 6, 1997 - Deborah Lyons, wife of Henry Lyons, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church pastor and president of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Inc., is arrested on charges of burglarizing and setting fire to a $700,000 home in Tierra Verde. The fire causes $30,000 damage. Detectives say Deborah Lyons told them she set the fire after learning her husband was having an affair with a convention employee, Bernice Edwards. Property records show the home is owned by Lyons, listed as a single man, and Edwards, a convicted embezzler.
  • July 8, 1997- Questions arise as to how Lyons was able to buy a second, waterfront home, two Mercedes Benzes and a Rolls Royce.
  • July 10, 1997- Lyons returns from a business trip to Nigeria, where he was the guest of the ruling military dictatorship, to deal with the growing controversy back home.
  • July 11, 1997 - Lyons denies having an affair with Edwards or using convention funds improperly.
  • July 17, 1997- After listening to Lyons, the convention's board gives him a unanimous vote of confidence. Lyons' secretary, Sheila Perry, is accused of cashing convention checks at a local check-cashing shop. A report says Lyons and Edwards planned to purchase a $925,000 North Carolina mansion.
  • July 26, 1997- Records show Henry Lyons purchased a $26,000 Lexus for secretary Bonita Henderson using a check from the convention and a cashier's check.
  • Aug. 2, 1997- Records show Lyons and Edwards own a Lake Tahoe, Nev., time share condominium.
  • Aug. 4, 1997- Lyons' lawyers fail to block state investigators' access to convention and personal banking records.
  • Aug. 8, 1997- Deborah Lyons is charged with arson. The burglary charge is dropped. Records show a check from a convention account was used in a down payment on a $36,200 diamond ring for Edwards.
  • Aug. 9, 1997- Records show irregularities in a federal credit union Lyons once headed.
  • Aug. 14, 1997- It is revealed Lyons paid some utility bills and part of the down payment for the Tierra Verde home from convention accounts.
  • Aug. 21, 1997- U.S. Attorney Charles Wilson announces Lyons is the target of a federal investigation.
  • Aug. 27, 1997- The Tribune reports that Henry Lyons has lobbied Congress on behalf of Nigeria's military dictator, Sani Abacha, without registering as a foreign agent, as required by U.S. law. Lyons appears on local television news broadcasts to apologize to supporters and deny accusations of extra-marital affairs and financial misdeeds, but admits to poor money management
  • Sept. 3, 1997- Attendees at the church's national convention in Denver vote by a 2-to-1 ratio not to remove Lyons from his position.
  • Sept. 11, 1997- The leaders of seven Alabama churches leveled in a rash of burnings in the South report receiving little or none of $225,000 given to Lyons by two human rights groups to help pay for rebuilding.
  • Sept. 12, 1997- Lyons offers to return the bulk of donations to the Anti-Defamation League. The group receives the $214,500 check four days later.
  • Sept. 24, 1997- Lyons issues a call to convention churches for special donations to ward off looming financial crises, including a mortgage payment on the convention headquarters in Nashville.
  • Oct. 20, 1997- Deborah Lyons admits setting fire to the Tierra Verde home and is sentenced to five years' probation. Adjudication is withheld and the judge orders her to perform 200 hours' community service and undergo alcohol and psychological evaluations.
  • Nov. 6, 1997- The St. Petersburg Times reports that more than $1 million intended for the Convention actually went to a secret bank account in Wisconsin, and that some of the funds were used by Lyons and Bernice Edwards for personal purchases.
  • Nov. 10, 1997- In an effort to protect the NAACP's reputation, its leadership calls for Lyons and three other national board members accused of financial misdealings, to resign from the organization's board of directors. Lyons' attorney says Lyons has already stepped down because of his heavy travel schedule and obligations as president of the Baptist Convention.
  • Nov. 21, 1997- Henry Lyons tells National Baptist Convention pastors in a letter that he has closed two bank accounts, including the controversial Baptist Builder Fund, and announces that a five-member committee will handle all expenditures.
  • Dec. 3, 1997- Lyons goes public to apologize for transgressions but vows to remain president of the convention. ``I have erred, I have sinned, and I have displayed human weaknesses and human frailties,'' Lyons says in a speech in the meeting room of his St. Petersburg church.
  • Dec. 11, 1997- The federal grand jury investigating Lyons' activities interviews high-ranking Baptist leaders. The convention's chairman, A.H. Newman, and general secretary, the Rev. Roscoe Cooper, appeared before the grand jury. Also testifying was former convention secretary Lynda Shorter.
  • Jan. 14, 1998 - The IRS files a $41,300 tax lien against Bernice Edwards.
  • Jan. 21, 1998: Lyons announces he will seek a second term as president of the convention.
  • Feb. 5, 1998: Students at the American Baptist College report deplorable conditions at the school. The college is owned by the convention.
  • Feb. 5, 1998: Accountants for Lyons tell a federal grand jury about his tax returns for 1995 and 1996.
  • Feb. 6, 1998: Fire marshalls order American Baptist College to fix fire code violations within one month, before facing the closure of a dormitory and possible arrests.
  • Feb. 11, 1998: F. Lee Baily joins Lyons' legal defense team.
  • Feb. 19, 1998: A federal grand jury receives nine boxes of financial records for its investigation of Lyons. The records belong to the convention.
  • Feb. 25, 1998: Lyons and Edwards are charged.
  • Jan. 25, 1999: Lyons and Edwards state trial opens.

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