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Bank Account Used by Church Leader

November 7, 1997

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ More than $1 million intended for the nation’s largest black church wound up in a secret bank account used by the church leader and a worker to buy a waterfront house and a diamond ring, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Wisconsin account at the Guaranty Bank under the name J.H. Associates was opened by Josephine Hicks, who owns a Milwaukee diner and is a longtime friend of the church worker, Bernice Edwards, the St. Petersburg Times said.

Mrs. Hicks said last week that she opened the account to help Ms. Edwards cash checks but closed it after learning large wire transfers were going into the account.

Mrs. Hicks said the transfers made her uncomfortable. The account was empty when she closed it more than a year ago, she said.

The newspaper reported that $136,000 was withdrawn from the account as a down payment on a $700,000 waterfront home that the Rev. Henry Lyons and Ms. Edwards own together and $28,700 went toward a diamond ring they bought.

Lyons hired Ms. Edwards, a convicted embezzler, for a top job at the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. in public relations. Lyons denied he has done anything illegal.

The newspaper said hundreds of thousands of dollars also were transferred from the Wisconsin account into a convention Baptist Builder Fund, a secret account Lyons controlled in a St. Petersburg bank.

The Loewen Group, a funeral group in business with the convention, wired more than $1 million into that account, the Times said. Company officials would not discuss the transaction or disclose who gave them the account number.

In prepared answers to written questions, Lyons distanced himself from the Wisconsin account.

``The underlying bank account was opened by Ms. Hicks at the request of Ms. Edwards, NOT at the request of Dr. Lyons. Only Ms. Hicks and Ms. Edwards had access to the funds in the underlying bank account,″ he wrote.

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