Indicted sheriff's wiretapped phone calls played for jury

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin's barber took the stand on Wednesday to testify against the former lawman at the center of a drug conspiracy trial.

During Chris Peeples testimony, jurors heard taped phone calls between Peeples and Melvin. In the more than 30 calls prosecutors played for the jury, you can hear the former sheriff and Chris Peeples, plotting a scheme to take money from a list of drug dealers. The FBI had planted that list, and used it to set up Melvin.

The FBI says it took Melvin a matter of hours to take a list of drug dealers SLED Agent Cecil Carter gave him and plot a way to take money off it. SLED and the FBI gave Melvin the list on April 19. Over the next five days, agents recorded 21 calls Melvin placed to his barber, convicted drug dealer Chris Peeples.
Peeples told the jury he and Melvin started squeezing Tony Holloman by saying he was on the feds' list, and Melvin would take his name off for $2,500.
The wiretaps showed that over several days, Melvin and Peeples plotted a way to scare Holloman into paying the money. Peeples says they also added names to the list, then went after the people they added. Peeples says his cut was half, and they were only able to collect $400 from Holloman.

FBI agent Chris Garrett was one of the lead investigators on the case, and supervised the wiretaps. Garrett told the jury that when he interviewed Melvin after arresting him at a Sumter woman's home, the sheriff lied to him about his dealings with drug dealers.
Garrett says Melvin lied about using the list to extort drug dealers, even though Garrett was listening to Melvin plotting the extortion over wire taps. Melvin says the dealers, like Peeples, were working for him by giving him information to fight the lee county drug trade.

Peeples, however, told WIS News 10 he was not an informant for Melvin.

Melvin faces 47 counts of extortion, money laundering, racketeering, drug conspiracy and lying to the FBI. The trial is near its end. Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday night, and Melvin's defense begins on Wednesday.

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