TAMPA — An FBI agent was at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday to inquire about allegations made against former pastor Henry J. Lyons.
Church elders voted to terminate Lyons last week, citing questions about potential financial improprieties.
After speaking with one official at the church, and another by phone, the FBI agent agreed to meet later this week with New Salem leaders.
"We're cooperating because we have nothing to hide,'' said Ray Melendez, chairman of the church trustees board. "We are all just shocked.''
When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Lyons' wife Willie said she had not heard anything about an investigation and had not been contacted by the FBI.
She said an unnamed attorney retained by her and her husband would call to answer any other questions. The Tampa Bay Times did not hear from the attorney Tuesday evening.
A spokeswoman with the FBI said the agency does not confirm or deny potential investigations.
Lyons, who had been at New Salem since 2004, served nearly five years in prison after convictions in state and federal courts for grand theft, racketeering, tax evasion and other charges in 1999 stemming from his time as president of the National Baptist Convention and as pastor at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church in St. Petersburg.
Back in the 1990s, his influence over millions of devoted Baptists made Lyons one of the most sought-after ministers in the country. He owned several homes and drove expensive cars. Corporate leaders sought his counsel.
But after more than a decade at New Salem, Lyons, 75, was ousted last week following a vote of church trustees and deacons. Another vote was held by church membership following Sunday's regularly scheduled service. That vote was 56-34, confirming the church's desire to dismiss Lyons.
Church officials had put together a package of financial records that they said raised questions about money that flowed through non-profit corporations run by Lyons and the day care center run on church grounds by his wife.
The termination letter given to Lyons after the June 15 meeting also hinted at possible wire and mail fraud, and misappropriation of federal grant funds awarded to the church.
Henry and Willie Lyons told the Times on June 16 that they were perplexed by the allegations and had not had time to review them. They said they believed his ouster was motivated by a small group of church members leading a revolt.
The couple has not been allowed to return to the church since Temple Terrace police were called on June 16 while Willie was tending to the now shuttered day care.
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