COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Ex-Lee County Sheriff "E.J." Melvin is a free man. The former law enforcement officer now facing federal drug charges walked out of the Lexington County Detention Center around 5:00pm Friday after friends and family helped him raise the $200,000 bond.
Just before Melvin walked outside, he borrowed another inmate's hat and sunglasses while our cameras waited outside. Melvin would not answer reporters' questions as he left the jail, and said he was not allowed to talk to anyone before getting into the back a friend's SUV and driving off.
Federal magistrate Joseph R. McCrorey, set Melvin's bond Wednesday at $200,000, ordered him held under home detention and placed on an electronic monitor. Melvin is to have no contact with the sheriff's department other than talking with interim sheriff Major Daniel Simon about transitional issues.
Friends and family put up land, cars, insurance policies, and business equipment to cover Melvin's bond. Terms of Melvin's release also require him to submit to random drug testing and surrender any firearms.
Melvin was arrested by state and federal agents at a Sumter home on the morning of May 1. Melvin and eight others face between 10 and life in prison if convicted of federal drug conspiracy charges.
The FBI and SLED arrested Melvin at a Sumter woman's home May 1 after agents spent more than a month listening in on wire-taped conversations between Melvin and known drug dealers, according to federal prosecutors. Melvin was inside the Little John Lane home when agents moved in. Neighbors told WIS that Melvin's patrol car had been parked overnight at the home for the past several months. Lee County probate court records show Melvin married Janet McQuillar, August 20, 1993. The pair shares a home at 557 Raccoon Road in Bishopville, about 15 miles away from where Melvin was arrested.
The woman who lives at the home where Melvin was arrested declined to comment on Melvin's arrest, their relationship, or the charges. "It'll all come out in court."
Melvin became the subject of a four year long drug investigation the FBI opened in Lee County, according to FBI agent Chris Garrett. Garrett testified Wednesday that investigators placed wire taps on Eric Hickmon and Larry Williams' cell phones; two suspected Lee County drug dealers. The wire taps were approved in a March 9 order. Through those recorded phone calls, 17 days later, agents went back to the judge and asked for permission to place a wire tap on Sheriff EJ Melvin's cell phone. The judge approved the Melvin tap in a March 26, 2010 court order. The Melvin tap was the first wire tap approved against an elected official in South Carolina, according to prosecutors.
The judge only allowed agents to monitor the taps for 30 days, but within that time, state and federal agents said they gathered enough evidence to charge Sheriff Melvin, Larry Williams, Brenda LaShawn Ellerby, Antonio Holloman, and Lucius Anthony Delane, Anthony Williams, Gary Ervin, and Eric Hickmon, and Sheldon Maurice Bradley with conspiracy to possess and distribute 5 kilos of cocaine and 50 grams of crack.
If convicted the maximum penalty is life in prison, or a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. The fines could max out at $4 million.