Former National Baptist president Lyons out of prison

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2003

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, former president of the National Baptist Convention USA, has been released from prison after serving nearly five years for wrongdoing while he led the denomination.

Lyons was convicted of grand theft and racketeering after an investigation revealed he abused his power in the convention and as pastor of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church to steal about $4 million. He used the money to buy luxury homes and jewelry, and to support his mistresses.

He was released last Sunday and immediately headed back to the pulpit, speaking to worshippers at First Baptist Institutional Church.

''I have suffered God's rod of correction,'' the 61-year-old Lyons said. ''I stand here today to tell you I truly, truly, repented of my sins.''

Lyons' downfall came after his wife Deborah set fire to a $700,000 waterfront home he co-owned with another woman, Bernice Edwards, in July 1997. Lyons and his wife divorced earlier this year; Edwards died in prison of natural causes this year.

Lyons will remain on probation for the next three years on federal charges of bank fraud and tax evasion. He also must pay $2.5 million in restitution.

''I have no idea how to do it,'' Lyons said. ''I don't have any money.''

Lyons, who wept during the church service, said he hopes to meet with members of his denomination, based in Nashville, Tenn., in January, but has no plans to seek any leadership positions.

He is currently working for a funeral home, which was part of his work release plan with the prison.

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