Witness describes kickback scheme involving former Lee Co. sheriff

David Ruth leaves the courthouse
David Ruth leaves the courthouse
E.J. Melvin
E.J. Melvin

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The man federal agents said was involved in a kickback scheme with former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin took the stand Wednesday to describe his version of how the system worked. David Ruth, who entered into a contract with Melvin to strip, wax and buff the floors of the sheriff's office, said he first talked to the sheriff about maintaining the floors in 2004.

Ruth's sister is Angela Ruth. She works for Melvin as a victim's advocate and is under a proffer with the FBI to testify against Melvin about a money laundering operation the pair ran through the department's victim's advocate fund. Angela and Melvin were romantically involved for 12 years, Ruth told the FBI, and received a cut of the money she signed over to Melvin from the account. Angela is set to testify later this week.

David Ruth testified that he holds two full-time jobs in Lee County, one as a job specialist at the county's Disabilities and Special Needs board, and a second as a janitor for the school district. He held a third job working for Melvin, he told jurors.

Melvin used to use the Lee Central High School gym to work out in the afternoons, Ruth testified. The sheriff noticed how shiny and well-maintained the floors inside the school were, then asked Ruth to stop by his office the next day to talk about a bid. The men met inside Melvin's office, according to Ruth, where he gave the sheriff a bid of $1,000 to strip and wax the floors inside the sheriff's office.

"We can do that, but I need to get something out of it," Ruth said Melvin told him during the meeting. The sheriff told Ruth he wanted him to add another $300 to $400 onto the bill, then cut the sheriff that amount in cash, as a kickback Ruth said. "I told him he didn't need to do that, I'd give him that out of my money, Ruth said. "I had to give him the money," to get the job.

"I knew morally that it was wrong, I didn't know legally it was wrong," Ruth said. Ruth said he never told his sister of the deal he made with the sheriff, but several checks were signed by Angela Ruth, and handed over to David. Prosecutors showed several checks dated between April 2008 and April 2010 written to David Ruth out of the department's Victim's Advocate fund for floor maintenance.

On August 5, 2008 David Ruth was paid twice for floor maintenance, once from the Victim's Advocate fund his sister maintained, and once from the Lee County council account, which both amounted to $1,500. David got his first payment four days earlier. August 5, David said he went to Melvin's office where the sheriff had the second payment in his hand. "He said cash it and give me half the money," David Ruth testified. Ruth said Melvin told him it was the county's mistake. The men, according to Ruth, each pocketed $375 of the August 5 check.

Of the checks prosecutors showed the jury Tuesday, Melvin's cut of the kickback scheme was at least $2,375. Prosecutors did not tell the jury if that was the total paid to Melvin or Ruth during the two year period.

Melvin's attorney questioned Ruth about his testimony, pointing out that the FBI could charge him if he did not testify against Melvin. Ruth signed a proffer with prosecutors on Sept. 29, 2010 where Ruth agreed to testify and cooperate with the feds in the investigation. Part of the proffer allows Ruth immunity from prosecution, if he tells the truth and helps the government with the case against Melvin. "If I wasn't telling the truth, I could be prosecuted," Ruth said.

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