SOS isn’t saying that these Tampa Bay Times writers did a perfect job exploiting the terrific material here; but they definitely did a creditable one. Let’s look.

The headline is rather long-winded and informational. No attempt to be witty or punny yet, which is fine. Ease us into it.


The Rev. Henry Lyons Forced Out as Pastor of Tampa Church Amid Accusations of Theft, Misconduct

Nowhere does the headline hint at the comic riches to come. But the first sentence does.

The second coming of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons was not as celebrated or lucrative as his previous life.

The once way-disgraced Rev. was, on his release from prison, immediately picked up by another church. This is the “second coming” to which the writers refer. Nice godly pun. Signals from the word go that the story we’re about to hear is not tragic. It’s not tragicomic. It’s comic.

The one-time leader of the largest black Baptist organization in America — toppled by infidelities and imprisoned on fraud charges — has kept a relatively low profile while running a century-old church in Hillsborough County the last dozen years.

Lyons no longer has the ear of the President of the United States, and his empire does not include the same luxuries as during his heyday in St. Petersburg in the 1990s.

What a falling-off is here. Rich, sexually fulfilled, president-whisperer; and then had to go to jail for “fraud, extortion, money laundering, conspiracy and tax evasion.” It was quite the story in the late ‘nineties. You probably remember it – UD does… No? This will jog your memory:

Lyons flew first class, hired a personal chef, and bought multiple homes. He showered female friends with gifts and drove luxury cars.

And it all came crashing down because of a domestic dispute.

His third wife Deborah discovered Lyons had purchased a house with another woman, and she attempted to burn down the $700,000 home in Tierra Verde.

*****************

He’s been quietly running a smaller church since his release…

Yet the final, uncomfortable hours of Lyons’ reign at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church have a disturbingly, familiar echo.

Church leaders have accused the 75-year-old Lyons of misappropriating funds for his personal benefit, and voted Thursday evening to remove him as pastor, ending what had once looked like a story of personal redemption.

No idea why they put a comma after disturbingly. If they’d written disturbing the comma would have been fine.

The writers don’t say Only idiots would put their church in the hands of so relentless, so thoroughgoing, a crook. They don’t say Like a hedge fund that hires Bernie Madoff on his way out of jail, New Salem thought hell – why not. They don’t have to. C’est entendu.

Any writer would envy these Tampa Bay guys. Not only is this a boffo plot; all the actors in it agreed to be interviewed. Extensively. The reporters start with the idiots.

“Call us ignorant, I guess,” said Ray Melendez, the chairman of New Salem’s board of trustees. “If anything, we were flattered that he said the Lord told him to come to New Salem. That he wanted to be the shepherd of our flock. We forgave him because he served his time. We thought he had went through his rehab, but apparently he was just the same old Dr. Henry J. Lyons.”

So, to be clear, the church is accusing Lyons of theft?

“Yes sir,” Melendez said.

SOS is sure the Lord told Henry to hightail it over to New Salem; for its part, the board of trustees should have listened for the Lord telling them that they should give Henry the job.

The writers neither correct nor condescendingly (sic) Ray’s grammar (“thought he had went through”), which is the right call.

Hm, let’s see. What’s next. Long article.

Okay.

Willie and Henry Lyons said they have not had time to research the list of allegations handed to them at the Thursday meeting, but said most of them appear to involve grant money from five to seven years ago.

They suggested any apparent improprieties were either easily explainable or inadvertent mistakes.

They have not yet contacted an attorney, but Lyons said he was inclined to dispute his termination.

“I really would rather fight, to be honest with you,” Lyons said. “I’ve had a great tenure at this church. It’s just been overwhelmingly good with blessings, and things going well and looking well.”

… “I don’t think I’m doing mail fraud. I’m only mailing to the people in the organization. And my organization is growing every year, praise God for that,” Lyons said. “I stood up the other night at a meeting and said, “Look, y’all need to tell me what in the world is mail fraud.’ I don’t really understand the monster but y’all keep on saying, “Pastor, you’re doing mail fraud.’ Tell me what it is.”

Takes more than five years in prison on fraud charges to know what fraud is.

The relationship with Lyons began to turn ugly, church officials say, when he and his wife refused to let the Atlanta firm examine the finances for the [church] day care [run by Lyons’ wife].

Lyons said church officials asked him to resign twice in recent months and he refused. A third meeting, Lyons said, almost turned violent.

Lord, Lord.

Willie Lyons returned to the church Friday morning to tend to the handful of children in day care but a pair of church members told her the business needed to be shut down immediately.

She was inside the church with two officials when a Tampa Bay Times photographer heard a woman shouting, “This is all lies, this is all lies. You all need to be saved.”

Willie Lyons later told the Times that she refused to leave, and church officials called the Temple Terrace Police Department to have her removed from the property.

You all need to be saved. Lots of good stuff here. Willie’s like Elena I brought you up like a mother Ceausescu.

**************

A story like this one writes itself. You mainly stand aside and let everyone talk. Fill in Henry’s history. Drop in the odd bon mot. And that’s just what our guys have done.

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