Dale T. Marler, foreman of the federal grand jury that indicted the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, appeared at the courthouse every Thursday in a coat and tie, his white hair neatly combed.
But the public image of the 55-year-old Holmes Beach man as a dutiful citizen was stunningly transformed Tuesday when he was arrested on charges of trafficking in cocaine and marijuana.
After months of testimony, the grand jury voted July 2 to indict Lyons, the president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., and two associates on fraud and tax charges.
Marler is well-known in his hometown as the member of an old citrus family and a longtime auxiliary sheriff's deputy.
But testimony and an affidavit presented in federal court Wednesday alleged a sinister side to this upstanding public face: charges that for the past two years, Marler was dealing multiple ounces of cocaine and pounds of marijuana every week. That includes the time he was reviewing charges against Lyons and numerous other suspects.
Federal prosecutors issued a statement late Wednesday asserting that the arrest of Marler has no effect on cases resolved by the grand jury during its term. Upon learning of the suspicions about Marler last month, the statement said, the prosecutors immediately suspended the operation of the grand jury. Its term reached its scheduled end July 31.
"If the charges are true, it is very disturbing to believe that a person who has sat in judgment of Rev. Lyons, cloaked with all the protections as a member of the grand jury, had himself been placed in a position which has resulted in his being charged," said Grady Irvin, an attorney for Lyons.
Irvin said it remains to be seen whether the charges against Marler mean Lyons' indictment is tainted and should be dismissed.
Nader Baydoun, an attorney for Brenda Harris, the NBC meeting planner who is charged along with Lyons, said Wednesday that he didn't know what impact Marler's arrest would have on the indictment. An attorney for Bernice V. Edwards, the NBC's former public relations director, could not be reached for comment.
Apart from the Lyons case, Marler's signature also appears on an indictment returned in April against Jose Castrillon Henao, alleged to be the top maritime cocaine shipper for Colombia's Cali cartel.
Testimony and an affidavit presented in federal court Wednesday presented a series of startling juxtapositions from what a judge termed Marler's "dual life":
When Manatee County deputies arrested Marler on Tuesday, his car contained a sheriff's hat, jacket and T-shirt, as well as a badge with his name on it. Deputies found almost an ounce of cocaine and a scale. The trunk yielded half a pound of marijuana and, a federal prosecutor said, "various grand jury documents, including indictments, the specifics of which I'm not prepared to divulge at this time."
An undercover deputy said he was led to Marler by a 49-year-old Holmes Beach woman who sold him small amounts of marijuana on July 9 and July 13. The woman identified Marler as her supplier, referred to him as "the Reverend," and said he did "something secret" out of town on Thursday _ the day of the week that Marler's grand jury met in Tampa.
The federal judge who ran Marler's initial appearance on the drug charges Wednesday, Magistrate Mark Pizzo, said he recognized Marler from the times Marler had appeared before him to present completed indictments _ one of the ordinary duties of every grand jury foreman.
Personally participating in Marler's arrest was Manatee Sheriff Charlie Wells, who knows Marler. Marler allegedly told the sheriff that he was dealing drugs to make loan payments. Public records show a mortgage foreclosure suit filed against Marler's old citrus company, Buck Creek Groves, in 1992.
Marler is charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and 500 grams (17.5 ounces) or more of cocaine, according to an arrest affidavit. After hearing testimony that Marler had threatened to kill two people if they informed on him, Pizzo ordered him held in jail without bail.
A female informer was told "she would end up in the bay like the women from Ohio" if she revealed Marler, federal prosecutor Joseph Ruddy said. That was an apparent reference to the murders of Jo, Michelle and Christe Rogers on Tampa Bay in 1989.
Marler, who shook his head in disbelief at the allegations of threats, was led off in handcuffs. His attorney, Mark Lipinski, said in court that Marler "specifically rejects that he threatened any person."
Marler, Lipinski said, has never been arrested before and has lived in Manatee County for more than 25 years.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, executive assistant Monte Richardson, said grand jury candidates are chosen from voter registration rolls. They are questioned but not subjected to a background check, Richardson said.
Grand juries contain 16 to 23 people. They meet periodically in secret for terms ranging from one year to 18 months. They vote to determine if federal prosecutors have established probable cause that suspects committed crimes. Twelve or more votes result in the grand jury's handing up an indictment.
As a grand jury foreman, Marler gave the public impression of being highly motivated by his citizen duty. Hours after his grand jury voted to indict Lyons on July 2, Marler remained in downtown Tampa, watching packs of journalists and cameramen follow Lyons and his entourage around the federal complex.
_ Times staff writers David Barstow and Monica Davey contributed to this report.