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Churches, ADL demand accounting of missing funds for arson attacks

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 (JTA) – The ceremony at New York’s Marriott Marquis hotel last November marked a high point in black- Jewish relations. After a spate of arson attacks, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Urban League had teamed up to raise more than a quarter of a million dollars to help rebuild burned-out black churches. At a news conference that gained national coverage, the civil rights groups presented an oversized check for $225,000 to the Rev. Henry Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention. They later sent additional donations bringing the “Rebuild the Churches Fund” total to $244,500. Weeks later, Lyons wrote to the ADL that six Alabama churches each received $35,000 and a seventh was due to receive $15,000. But now, the churches are claiming foul play. They say they only received a fraction of the money that Lyons had promised or none at all, according to a Tampa Tribune article published this week. Three ministers who traveled to New York with Lyons for the ceremony got checks for $10,000 each, the paper reported. A fourth church received $1,000 and two other churches got no money. A seventh church received $25,000 seven months after the ADL and the Urban League gave Lyons the money. Now the ADL wants the rest of the money delivered. “Our concern is that the money in fact be delivered to the institutions. We are shocked and troubled by the news accounts,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, said in a phone interview. Foxman, who learned of the discrepancies from the Tribune article, immediately sent a letter to Lyons asking “for a complete accounting.” Lyons did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Lyons’ attorney Grady Irvin told the Tribune, “You have indicated there is a discrepancy. There is no discrepancy. “We will not spend our time responding to what now appears to be a second attempt by the media to put Dr. Lyons in a bad light,” he said. Lyons survived numerous attempts to oust him as president of the Baptist group last week as he battled charges of infidelity and mishandling church money. Another, much larger fund for burned churches has distributed all of its money, according to Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious relations at the American Jewish Committee. The AJCommittee, the National Council of Churches and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops teamed up to administer an $8 million fund that included foundation contributions, individual donations and in-kind contributions from companies such as Home Depot. “I hope that the report is not true,” Rudin said. “These churches really need every dollar.”

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