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Fla. Minister’s Trial Set To Resume

February 4, 1999

LARGO, Fla. (AP) _ Rev. Henry Lyons apparently was ``just making ... up″ numbers when he compiled a state-by-state accounting of the National Baptist Convention USA’s members, a former aide says.

``I would say a state and he would give me a figure. At first, I just thought he was really intelligent,″ Lynda Shorter told jurors Wednesday in Lyons’ racketeering trial.

``When we got to the middle of the list, I realized he was making them up. He was smirking and laughing.″

Shorter, who was Lyons’ administrative aide for about a year beginning in June 1995, also testified that Lyons kept no ledgers showing how he spent the convention money or records of checks that came in to the group.

The powerful black church organization has a touted 8.5 million members, but prosecutors who accuse Lyons, the group’s president, of swindling money from companies seeking to do business with the group call that figure a hoax.

Lyons and his alleged mistress, Bernice Edwards, are accused of duping corporations who wanted to market life insurance, credit cards and funeral plots to the members of almost $4 million. Prosecutors say the pair used the money to finance lavish lifestyles.

Earlier Wednesday, a jewelry store owner testified Lyons and Ms. Edwards picked out a 5.56-carat diamond as part of a four-month spending spree in which they spent almost $43,000.

Judith Grimm said the pair made several visits to her St. Petersburg shop between December 1995 and March 1996, first buying an expensive money clip and eventually picking out a diamond ``the size of a dime″ that cost $36,000.

Ms. Edwards described it as an engagement ring from Lyons, Ms. Grimm said, but later asked her not to mention it in front of a friend she and Ms. Edwards were meeting for lunch.

One $10,000 payment for the diamond was made from a check from the Baptist Builder’s Fund, Ms. Grimm testified. Prosecutors have described that as a secret bank account the pair used to hide money.

Her lawyer has described Ms. Edwards as a single mother struggling to make ends meet who was ``brought along as window-dressing″ by prosecutors trying to convict Lyons.

Lyons’ lawyers maintain the failed business deals are not criminal matters.

Lyons also is charged with grand theft, accused of stealing about $250,000 from the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith intended to rebuild burned black churches in the South.

He faces another trial this spring on 54 federal charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, extortion and money laundering.