Ex-sheriff faces more charges of racketeering, money laundering

By Logan Smith - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin was hit with even more criminal charges Wednesday for his involvement in a drug, racketeering and money laundering operation.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said Melvin, 47, of Bishopville, was charged with 47 counts of various violations of federal law. The indictment supercedes the drug conspiracy charged issued to Melvin and 13 other people back in May. Since then, all 13 co-defendants pleaded guilty to the charge.

Prosecutors say Melvin's additional charges come after FBI and SLED agents spent several weeks interviewing people in and around Lee County. "Every time we interview someone, we find out more information on corruption with Mr. Melvin," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore said in August.

Melvin is accused of operating the affairs of the sheriff's department through a pattern of racketeering, a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute commonly used to prosecute mafia figures.

The former sheriff also faces charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of powder cocaine and 50 grams or more of crack cocaine; 17 counts of using a telephone to facilitate drug trafficking; and 20 counts of extorting kickbacks from drug dealers, people charged with crimes and people seeking benefits from the sheriff's department in return for protection or preferential treatment, a violation of the Hobbs Act.

On top of that, Melvin is accused of converting more than $5,000 in funds designated for victim assistance and services, three counts of money laundering and three counts of making false statements to federal and state law enforcement agents.

Nettles said Melvin faces between 10 years and life in prison if convicted on the drug conspiracy charge, as well as a maximum fine of $4,000,000. If convicted on the racketeering charges, Melvin faces between 20 years and life and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Jack Swerling, Melvin's attorney, did not immediately respond to an e-mail message. His office says he is on vacation.

Related Stories:

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.