Federal grand jury to decide indictments against fmr Lee Co. sheriff

Former Sheriff EJ Melvin
Former Sheriff EJ Melvin

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Federal prosecutors will present evidence in the drug conspiracy case involving the former Lee County sheriff to a grand jury seated in Columbia.

Prosecutors are seeking indictments against former Sheriff EJ Melvin and eight others charged in a 4-year-long federal drug conspiracy investigation.

The grand jury will determine whether the State Law Enforcement Division and FBI agents gathered enough evidence to take the charges against Melvin and his co-conspirators to trial.

The grand jury is made up of between 16 and 23 registered voters, all chosen to serve multiple-month terms. In order to indict Melvin, at least 12 of the grand jurors must agree to hand up an indictment.

Melvin resigned his office May 1 after state and federal agents arrested him at Monisha Jones' Little John Lane home in Sumter just before 6 a.m. Jones, a 29-year-old Sumter teacher who used her home as collateral in Melvin's bond, picked the former sheriff up from jail May 7.

Melvin's brother, Edward, said Jones is a family friend. "We've known her most her life and she stepped up when we needed her," he said.

Melvin's wife, Janet Melvin, did not attend her husband's bond execution last Friday, according to Melvin's family.

Federal agents charged Melvin after a federal judge ordered wire taps placed on Larry Williams and Eric Hickmon's cell phones on March 9. The two men are suspected Lee County drug dealers, according to FBI agent Chris Garrett. The taps showed dozens of calls involving the former sheriff, Garrett testified last week. Agents got permission to place taps on Melvin's cell on March 26, according to a sworn affidavit filed in federal court April 29.

Federal prosecutors said Melvin worked Larry Williams as a "middle man" in "shakedown" of Lee County drug dealers. Agents said the crimes started at least four years ago, when the FBI opened investigations into two other drug cases in the county.

Investigators said Melvin extorted thousands of dollars from drug dealers in exchange for reduced or dismissed charges against them. Prosecutor Mark C. Moore told the judge last week that Melvin was "on the payroll…they were paying Sheriff Melvin for his protection."

Agents recorded more than 500 calls between Melvin and the co-conspirators, according to Garrett. Prosecutors said Melvin attempted to explain the money he extorted from dealers as campaign money.

"I can't control who gave me money from my campaign," agents said Melvin told them during the May 1 interrogation. The contributions were not reported to the state Election Commission, Garrett testified.

In the calls, Garrett testified that agents listened to calls where Melvin discussed "witness intimidation" and said the witnesses the government used in the case, "Indicated a fear of Mr. Melvin."

In an April 16, 2010 4:30 p.m. call, Garrett said Melvin called Patrick Montgomery concerning convicted Lee County drug dealer Shawn Green. In the call, Garrett said Melvin told Montgomery that Green was going around the Woodrow Community telling people that he'd paid Melvin in the past for protection. Garrett said Melvin told Montgomery to "take care of that." The FBI, Garrett testified last week, will be investigating past incidents of retaliation involving Melvin in this case.

In a March 29 phone call, agents recorded a call between Melvin and Williams where co-defendant Lucius Delane wanted Williams to have the sheriff drop or reduce drug charges against suspected drug dealer Roshell Brown.

In the call, the men discuss payment for the favor as "chips," which agents interpreted to mean $1,000. For Melvin's help on the charges, the sheriff told Williams, "That's them big chips now, I ain't mean no little chips," according to the FBI. Agents interpreted the conversation to mean that Melvin expected a $5,000 payment in which Williams would receive a percentage. In the May 1 interrogation, agents said they played the call for Melvin, who agents said denied knowing what the term "chips" meant.

With five days remaining on Sheriff Melvin's wire tap, SLED and FBI agents met with Melvin at his Bishopville office on April 19. Investigators told Melvin they were looking into several drug dealers in Lee County, and made a handwritten list of the suspects they gave to Melvin. The list contained most of the co-conspirators agents said were part of the sheriff's drug network.

After agents left the sheriff's office, investigators told the judge, "Sheriff Melvin began conducting numerous telephone calls in an effort to either tip off drug dealers about the FBI's interest in them, or to extort money from them."

At 6:25 p.m., agents recorded a call between Melvin and Williams where the men planned to extort money from some of the names on the FBI's suspect list in exchange for Melvin's help in steering agents away from the suspects, according to Garrett.

The next day, agents recorded a 10:03 a.m. call between Melvin and Williams where the men were planning to have co-defendant Lucius Anthony Delane removed from the government's suspect list.

In the call, Melvin tells Williams, "See what we can get out of him. Tell him we'll keep, the you know, off him. We'll try to lead them another way," according to the agent's wire tap recording. Over the course of several calls, agents said Melvin and Williams were able to extort $2,000 from Delane on a promise for the sheriff to steer SLED and the FBI away from Delane.

In a call later that day, the sheriff places a call to an unnamed man to discuss what to do with co-defendant Antonio Holloman's name being placed on the government's suspect list, and how much it would cost for Melvin to protect him, according to the affidavit. The man tells the sheriff that Holloman would pay between $2,500 and $3,000 for Melvin's protection. Melvin tells the caller what he planned to tell Holloman when he saw him, "I don't trust you because you are a weak link. You try call my name, anything, I swear they are going to find you because I ain't going to let you take me down," according to the FBI's wire tap recordings.

The sheriff called Holloman around 10:41 p.m. to let the man know that the sheriff was meeting with the FBI and SLED in Florence the next day to discuss the suspect list. Melvin tells Holloman, "I need to have something before I go there tomorrow. If there's nothing there, it's nothing I can do," according to the taped phone call. Agents said Holloman paid the sheriff $400 in exchange for the sheriff's protection.

In a 10:17 a.m. April 23 call, agents reported Melvin called Erik Hickmon, who is also charged in the drug conspiracy case, to arrange a traffic stop on co-defendant Sheldon Maurice Bradley.

Agents said the sheriff told Hickmon he'd initiate a stop on Bradley and "take it from him," talking about the drugs Melvin said he expected to find on Bradley. Melvin intended to give Hickmon part of the cocaine and turn the rest in as evidence against Bradley, according to Garrett.

"I believe Sheriff Melvin has been and is a powerful man in Lee County for years. From our short period of listening to his calls, he has a very different side of him," Garrett testified last week.

Agents said they are investigating Melvin's connection to a chop shop operation in Lee County after Garrett said agents discovered reports that investigators found stolen property on Melvin's Raccoon Road property. Agents said they believe Melvin was also protecting people with stolen property inside Lee County.

Garrett said agents are looking into allegations that Melvin negotiated food stamp buys with Lee County resident Alia Frederick. Garrett said Melvin received money from Frederick in the case, but did not go into details about that investigation.

Prosecutor Moore said in court last week that agents planted a confidential informant in Lee County. The agents arranged a situation where the CI, according to Garrett, paid Sheriff Melvin $500 to "fix" a traffic ticket. Garrett said Melvin took the money and carried out the "fix." Garrett did not say if prosecutors would bring charges against Melvin in the ticket-fix incident.

Melvin, freed on $200,000 bond, will await his trial under home detention and electronic monitoring. Booking records show Brenda Ellerby posted $50,000 bond while Antonio Holloman and Lucius Delane each posted a $150,000 for their roles in the federal case against them.

The FBI and SLED charged the four along with Eric Hickmon, Larry Williams, Anthony Williams, Sheldon Maurice Bradley, and Gary Bernard Ervin with conspiracy to possess and distribute five kilograms of cocaine, and 50 grams of crack cocaine.

If convicted, Melvin faces between a mandatory 10 years to life in prison.  The results of the grand jury's decision could be published as early as Thursday, according to the court.

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