Bernice V. Edwards, whose relationship with the Rev. Henry Lyons led to the downfall of his ministry and the revelation of a massive financial scandal involving the National Baptist Convention, has died. She was 46.
Edwards died Monday at the federal prison in Pekin, Ill., where she was scheduled to be released in June. She was serving a nine-month term for violating her probation on federal tax evasion charges. An autopsy was planned.
Born in Mississippi, Edwards was a convicted embezzler who was working as a publicist for the National Baptist Convention, one of the nation’s largest black church denominations.
In 1997, the minister’s wife, Deborah Lyons, discovered that her husband secretly owned a $700,000 waterfront mansion with Edwards and she set the house on fire. The ensuing investigation revealed that Henry Lyons and Edwards had used church proceeds to buy other properties, jewelry and luxury cars.
Prosecutors accused Lyons and Edwards of stealing more than $4 million from corporations wanting to sell cemetery products, life insurance policies and credit cards to the Nashville-based convention’s 8.5 million members.
In 1999, Edwards was acquitted in state court of racketeering, but later that year she was convicted in federal court on two counts of tax evasion. She was sentenced to 21 months in prison and three years’ probation.
Lyons was convicted of federal racketeering and grand theft and was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison.