Lee Co. victims advocate resigns, part of Melvin investigation

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Federal prosecutors are looking into where more than $12,000 in Lee County Victims Advocate funds went between 2008 and 2010, according to the latest filings in the drug conspiracy case against former Sheriff EJ Melvin.

The investigation led FBI agents to the former sheriff's Victim Advocate's office.

Federal investigators interviewed the department's victims advocate, Angela Ruth, on July 15 while FBI agents were in the process of tracking down Melvin's finances. Ruth, who federal prosecutors identified as "Witness X", worked as the office's victims advocate.

Sheriff Daniel Simon said Ruth resigned Sept. 20 for "personal reasons." Simon would not talk about the specifics surrounding Ruth's departure, but said she was the only advocate the department had during the time of the FBI's investigation.

Agents started investigating Ruth "because a review of Melvin's personal bank account records from SAFE Federal Credit Union showed that over $12,000 in checks were written to Melvin out of the Lee County Victim's Advocate fund," according to court records.

The checks were for reimbursements for Melvin's catering services the filing shows. In a July 15 interview with investigators, Ruth admitted she had a 12 year affair with Melvin. Ruth told investigators that Melvin would send her an invoice for his catering services, on events "that had little or nothing to do with providing services to crime victims," according to court records. Ruth denied that she ever received any kickbacks from the funds she provided Melvin until federal agents interviewed her a second time.

During the second meeting, agents said Ruth hired Columbia attorney Charles Johnson. Ruth admitted to investigators that she received a "cut" of the checks she issued Melvin only after agents played a recorded phone call between she and Melvin, the filing states.

Court records show Ruth "admitted that when Melvin told her that he would give sic to you, he was telling her that she would get $600.00 in cash if she cut him a check for $1,640 from the Victim's Advocate fund." Ruth told investigators that in 2008, Melvin started charging "extremely high prices" for the catering services. That's when agents said Ruth asked Melvin to "cut her in on the deal." The pair agreed that Ruth would write Melvin checks, "without questioning his bills," according to the court filing.

At some point during the pair's relationship and money laundering scheme, Ruth told Melvin "that she was concerned that he was associating with too many drug dealers," records showed. Melvin told Ruth that he was "untouchable," according to federal agents.

Agents documented a string of six checks deposited into Melvin's account, from the victims advocate account in 2009. The checks totaled $9,300. Ruth, according to court records, received at least $1,300 as a "cut" from Melvin.

Attempts to reach Ruth and ask her about her connection to Melvin were unsuccessful. Her attorney also declined a request for an interview.

Melvin has been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine among other charges. The United State District Court released the seven page 302 report Friday. The report is a summary of federal investigators' notes taken during Melvin's interrogation and can be used as testimony.

While in federal custody, Melvin led agents to Larry Williams, the man federal prosecutors called the sheriff's "bag man."

The report shows that Melvin admitted to lying to agents in April when the FBI showed the sheriff a list of names that investigators were looking at in a four year-long Lee County drug investigation. Melvin told agents that he didn't know how to contact Williams, and that Williams wasn't connected to any high productivity drug activity in the county, according to the report.

Prosecutors said within minutes of the agents leaving Melvin in April, he called Williams to inform him about the federal investigation. Melvin told agents he initially lied about his relationship with Williams because he was an "informant," and he didn't want to "give Williams up.

Agents reported that Melvin continued to lie to investigators about his relationship with other co-defendants charged in the conspiracy ring with Melvin. The FBI got a 30-day wire tap placed on Melvin's phone in March, and recorded more than 500 calls between the sitting sheriff and drug dealers, according to prosecutors. During the May 1 interrogation, agents played portions of the recordings for Melvin.

The sheriff told investigators that he paid Williams between $300 and $400 for information between 2007 and 2010. Melvin said he was conducting a one-man drug investigation following a court hearing in Columbia.

Prosecutors said Melvin used his position to extort money from drug dealers in exchange for the sheriff's protection from prosecutors. In the report, the FBI stated that Melvin admitted to accepting hundreds of dollars from his co-defendants, but said the sheriff explained the payments as "campaign contributions."

On Sept. 23, a federal grand jury handed up 47 more charges against Melvin that included racketeering, theft of county Victim's Advocate funds, extortion, drug distribution, and money laundering.  If convicted of the charges, Melvin could spent the rest of his life in federal prison.

Melvin's trial is set for Oct. 26, 2010.

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