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LYONS LOSES BID TO STOP ELECTION

A judge denies a suit to halt the National Baptist Convention election set for today.

The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, the disgraced preacher who wants to regain leadership of the National Baptist Convention, lost his bid Wednesday to stop the organization's election.

Lyons filed a lawsuit in a Washington, D.C., court alleging that new bylaws governing the election violate the National Baptist Convention's constitution.

Lyons complained that the bylaws limit the number of representative members eligible to vote and give some additional votes if they are designated as representative members by more than one church, association or state convention. The suit claimed that such changes constitute a breach of contract.

Lyons was in the courtroom Wednesday afternoon when Judge Jeanette Clark denied his motion for a temporary restraining order.

The judge "basically said that Rev. Lyons did not follow the convention's procedures and did not suffer irreparable harm," said the Rev. Wendell Griffen, parliamentarian for the convention and a member of the board of directors.

The judge added that Lyons "knew that the procedures had been in place since September 2006 and he sat and he waited until the last minute to file a lawsuit rather than going to the convention and complaining about the procedures," Griffen said.

The judge also ruled that there were no inconsistencies between the bylaws that Lyons was complaining about and the convention's constitution, he said.

Lyons' attorney did not return calls or respond to e-mails requesting an interview. Lyons also did not return calls seeking comment.

The election for president of the convention, said to be the largest African-American religious group in the United States, will go on today as planned in Memphis.

Lyons, 67, is running against the Rev. Julius R. Scruggs, 67, of Alabama, the current vice president at large. It's a paid position. The outgoing president, the Rev. William Shaw of Philadelphia, earns $100,000 a year.

Lyons' effort to retake the convention's presidency has been divisive. Supporters say he should be forgiven. Others say forgiveness does not mean another chance to lead the organization.

His problems began in July 1997, after his then-wife, Deborah, started a fire at a $700,000 Tierra Verde home he owned with another woman. The incident set off an investigation into his finances, and Lyons was eventually convicted on state racketeering and grand theft charges.

He swindled more than $4 million from corporations seeking to do business with the convention and stole nearly $250,000 donated by the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith to rebuild burned black churches. He pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud and tax evasion. In addition to prison, Lyons was ordered to pay more than $5 million in restitution.

Although Lyons is looking to the future, he has not finished paying for his past. He was ordered in federal court in 1999 to pay $5.2 million to six victims. One was Oklahoma-based Globe Life Insurance, which was owed $1 million.

Globe has received "less than 10 percent of that court-ordered amount," said Mike Majors, vice president for investor relations of Globe's corporate parent, Torchmark Corp. Majors said the company has received payments intermittently.

Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Lyons has been making payments on the restitution, but he would not say how much he has paid or how much he still owes.

After Lyons was convicted in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court in 1999, he was ordered to pay, among other things, the $97,824 cost of his prosecution, plus $405 in other costs. Records indicate he has paid $154.75.

Because of his unpaid bill, his case was referred in November 2006 to a collection agency, which slapped on a surcharge. According to Pinellas records, he still owes $137,304 for court-related costs.

It's hard to tell how much of the $5.2 million he still owes overall. He was ordered to pay $299,611 to Union Planters Bank of Middle Tennessee, now part of Regions Bank. A spokeswoman declined to say how much Lyons had repaid of that.

The federal court ordered Lyons to repay $3.2 million to the Loewen Group, a Canadian funeral home chain that is now part of a Texas corporation that did not return phone calls.

The federal court also ordered Lyons to pay $534,689 to the IRS, but an agency spokesman said federal laws prevented him from discussing whether Lyons had made payments.

Lyons also was accused of misusing money gathered by the Anti-Defamation League to help raise money to rebuild African-American churches in the South that had been destroyed by arsonists. In that case, however, he repaid $214,000 before his trial.

Asked to comment on Lyons now, Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement this week that, "Rev. Lyons may seek forgiveness and attain it. However, there is trust that comes with leadership, and he has forfeited his right to that trust."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283. Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8232.

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