Melvin deputy wore wire, helped FBI build case against former sheriff

Melvin after court proceedings 10/27/2010
Melvin after court proceedings 10/27/2010
Eric Hickmon's home was one of the many homes, McCutchen testified, that Melvin steered his drug unit away from.
Eric Hickmon's home was one of the many homes, McCutchen testified, that Melvin steered his drug unit away from.

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS)- A man hired by former Lee County sheriff E.J. Melvin to fight drug crimes, turned informant for the FBI in June 2009. Lee County drug investigator Captain Johnny McCutchen helped the FBI investigate his former boss in a four-year drug investigation.

McCutchen testified that his troubles started in 2005 when his drug unit served a search warrant on Sean Green's Lee County home. Inside, McCutchen said he found "a large amount of cocaine and cash." The drug unit, however, didn't tell Melvin about their plans to hit Green's home. After the unit searched the home and made the arrest, McCutchen testified that Melvin ordered McCutchen "to notify him (Melvin) as to narcotics operations before we did it."

The Lee County drug unit then turned its attention to a Lee County man named James "Head" Johnson. McCutchen told the jury he went to Melvin with "real good" information on Johnson and wanted to make a case against him. Melvin told McCutchen, "Head" Johnson was not doing anything and there is not need for an investigation on him," McCutchen testified. Melvin's orders came after McCutchen says he had the evidence he needed to make a case.

A third diversion from the former sheriff came after McCutchen told Melvin he started video surveillance on a Lee County man, Dewayne Henry. Henry was dealing drugs in the county and the unit found where Henry set up a "re-up" point, which is where Henry was meeting his supplier to replenish his drug supply, according to McCutchen. "I told the sheriff I had some drug information and I wanted to start a drug operation," said McCutchen. The operation never happened and McCutchen said he found out Henry moved to Kershaw County, where his unit had no authority to investigate the man.

In the spring of 2009, McCutchen said he saw Henry at the sheriff's office meeting with Melvin. McCutchen testified that Melvin's reasoning for meeting with Henry was because, "He was a club owner and was looking to hire some off-duty officers for security." McCutchen said he never completed his investigation into Henry after that.

In June 2009, McCutchen suited up in a "bush camouflage suit" and hit the woods in front of Melvin co-defendant Eric Hickmon's Herndon Road home. On June 12, 2009 McCutchen testified that he crawled into the woods with a video camera and shot video of Hickmon dealing drugs from his front door. McCutchen shot video on three separate days, which showed "narcotic activity," and in one case McCutchen "filmed a lot of white powder substance being handed out the front door." McCutchen gave his reports to the FBI, then got a judge's permission to take Hickmon down.

On July 27, 2009, McCutchen took his video and facts to a Lee County magistrate and got the judge to sign a search warrant to arrest Hickmon and take his drugs, guns, and money.

That day, McCutchen's first tape-recorded conversation with Melvin happened at the Corner Grill in Bishopville. As Melvin ordered before, McCutchen informed Melvin that his drug unit would hit Hickmon's home before sunrise.  "One of the best ones yet…he should have plenty of dope," McCutchen tells his boss on the recording. McCutchen asked Melvin if he wanted to come along, Melvin declined joking "that's a little early for me." The men agreed to talk once the search was complete.

A half-hour later, McCutchen said Melvin walled him to his office to talk about the Hickmon search. McCutchen's wire caught Melvin saying, "It just dawned on me driving down the road…he's one of my informants." Melvin claimed Hickmon had provided information about drug dealers that resulted in successful drug cases in the past. Despite McCutchen's video evidence of Hickmon's cocaine trafficking, Melvin told McCutchen on the recording that, "I know he smoke weed," and McCutchen responds, "He does a lot more than that."

Melvin then steered McCutchen away from Hickmon, and told him about a "round up" he'd planned at a night club called "The Barn." "We going to do something big at the Barn," Melvin told McCutchen on the recording. Melvin said he wanted to invite several wanted people from the Egypt community of Lee County to the party, then arrest them in a warrant sweep. Melvin mentioned conducting that operation before, but it never happened.

McCutchen testified that Melvin never provided any informant information to his unit and the drug unit was never allowed to conduct a search warrant at Hickmon's home.

May 1, the FBI and SLED arrested Melvin and Hickmon, along with several others in the federal drug conspiracy case. Agents served a federal search warrant on Hickmon's home and found three assault weapons, several magazines with bullets loaded in and hundreds of round of ammunition. "I had mine for protection," Hickmon told the jury Wednesday.

McCutchen's testimony continues Thursday morning when Melvin's defense attorney will question McCutchen about his wired conversations with the former sheriff.

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