COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Former two-term Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin is behind bars at the Lexington County Detention Center, awaiting a sentencing hearing that could put him in federal prison for the rest of his life.
A federal jury convicted Melvin late Tuesday afternoon after deliberating racketeering, drug conspiracy, extortion, using a telephone to further a drug conspiracy and money laundering charges. Melvin is also guilty of lying to the FBI. He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison with the possibility of a life sentence.
For complete coverage of Melvin's arrest and trial click here.
US Assistant Attorney Mark Moore charged Melvin with 25 separate acts of racketeering. The jury only needed to find the former sheriff guilty of two acts to be convicted, but the jury found guilty on all counts. The jury found Melvin not guilty of four of the 17 telephone counts. The drug conspiracy conviction carries a minimum of 10 years, the additional charges could enhance the sentence the judge will level on Melvin.
After the court clerk read the verdict, the judge revoked Melvin's bond and ordered the US Marshals to arrest the former sheriff and put him in jail until his sentencing hearing in January. Melvin was free since May 7 when he was set free on a $200,000 surety bond. T
he former sheriff was living with his girlfriend, Monisha Jones' Sumter home, where the FBI and SLED arrested him. Melvin's wife, Janet, filed for divorce in July on grounds of adultery. Melvin had 30 days to respond to the divorce filing, but court records show he ignored the summons.
Melvin was one of 14 people arrested in a suspect round up before dawn May 1. The sitting sheriff was caught extorting drug dealers and running a drug conspiracy over federal wire taps. The wire taps were in place for 30 days between March and April. In that time, the FBI and SLED had enough evidence to arrest Melvin and his co-defendants.
The first sentencings came down Tuesday when US District Judge Cameron Currie handed down jail sentences for four of five Melvin co-conspirators who were the first to plead guilty in the case following their May 1 arrests.
BRENDA LaSHAWN ELLERBY
Brenda LaShawn Ellerby stood before Currie at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, facing between 10 and 16 months in federal prison. Ellerby, who had no prior criminal record, admitted that she helped her boyfriend and Melvin co-conspirator, Eric Hickmon weigh and sell cocaine from the couple's Bishopville home.
Ellerby, who works at a Sumter chicken-packing plant, "Had no idea of the scope of the drug activity," Ellerby's attorney, Rosemary Parham told the judge. Ellerby spent five hours with FBI agents following her arrest, giving agents information about her drug dealings with Hickmon. During the case Ellerby was fully cooperating with the FBI, which earned her a reduced sentence and a reduced charge. "I apologize for the role I played in this case," a sobbing Ellerby told the judge, "I just ask that you have mercy on me."
Assistant US Attorney J.D. Rowell told the judge the government was not opposed to a probation "non-custodial" sentence, which allowed the judge to allow Ellerby, a mother of the three year old boy, to serve a sentence of home confinement.
Currie sentenced Ellerby to six month home confinement , with strict orders to submit to random drug testing and maintain a job through five years of probation. "Your involvement was more serious than your plea," Currie told Ellerby, "You appear to have positive hope to turn your life around…You got your break."
At 10:15 a.m. co-conspirator Antonio Holloman stood before Currie for sentencing on his role in the Melvin conspiracy ring. Holloman faced between 37 and 46 months for his role in the Lee County drug trades, but because he offered prosecutors "substantial cooperation" and accepted full responsibility for his role, he earned a reduced sentence. Holloman didn't start off telling the FBI the truth because he was afraid of retaliation from people inside Lee County for "testifying against a powerful, popular sheriff," Holloman's attorney told the judge.
Holloman was the man prosecutors said Melvin threatened to kill because the sheriff thought he was "a weak link." Melvin was caught on the wire taps talking to co-conspirator Chris Peeples about Holloman as the men plotted a way to take money from Holloman. In the call, Melvin told Peeples "they would find" Holloman because Melvin said, "I ain't going to let you (Holloman) take me down."
Holloman, wearing a purple dress shirt and purple tie, told the judge, "I know I deserve to be punished. I just ask that you have mercy on me." Currie called Holloman's involvement in Melvin's ring "significant," telling him, "You had an opportunity to get away from it, but you came back to it," referring to Holloman's family providing him with a tow business to make a legitimate living. Judge Currie sentenced Holloman to 33 months in federal prison.
SHELDON MAURICE BRADLEY
Just past 11 a.m., Melvin co-conspirator Sheldon Maurice Bradley stood before Currie, facing a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and life in prison. The 24 year old Lee County man had early involvement in the Melvin drug ring, and was a Melvin target at one point as the sitting sheriff plotted a scheme to steal drugs from Bradley earlier this year. The scheme was caught on wire taps.
US Assistant Attorney Mark Moore asked the judge to sentence Bradley "toward the top-end of the guideline range," because Moore argued Bradley was not fully truthful with the FBI. Moore said Bradley failed a lie detector test when agents questioned him about an unsolved murder in Bishopville. "He had information of the murder," Moore told the judge. Investigators think Bradley was the shooter, but could never prove it.
"I'm sorry I embarrassed my moms [sic] and my family and I ask you to have mercy on me," Bradley told the judge. Currie sentenced Bradley, a first-time offender, to the mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.
GARY BERNARD ERVIN
A Lee County man deemed a "Career Criminal" under the federal system, Gary Bernard Ervin, walked into Currie's courtroom Tuesday facing life in prison. Ervin also had two prior drug convictions hanging over him, which put him at risk of life without parole. Prosecutors allowed Ervin to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his help in the case against Melvin.
Ervin, a former Furman student and the son of two Lee County educators, admitted he supplied drugs to Melvin co-conspirator Eric Hickmon. The only child asked the judge for mercy, "I apologize to my family for putting them through this time and time again." "Doors closed on me from time and time again looking for jobs," Ervin said, "I just want another chance at life." Currie described Ervin's role in the Melvin ring as "a significant level," and told him "You had several opportunities, but you abused those opportunities."
Ervin told Currie he got "tied up with the wrong crowd." The judge told Ervin that she's heard that from defendants over the years, "But, no one wants to admit they are the wrong crowd…Mr. Ervin, you were that wrong crowd, you had everything and you threw it away." Currie sentenced Ervin to nearly 22 years in prison.
A man prosecutors called one of E.J. Melvin's "Bag Men" walked into court Tuesday in a red Lexington County Detention Center jump suit, wearing shackles around his wrists and ankles. Eric Hickmon, who took the stand against Melvin, also faced life in prison for his role in dealing more than five kilograms of cocaine inside Lee County during the FBI's four-year-long investigation.
Currie sentenced Hickmon to 22 years Tuesday.
Prosecutors labeled Larry "Hawk" Williams the former sheriff's "Bag Man," after Williams admitted he was Melvin's go-between with Lee County drug dealers. The FBI and SLED caught Williams on wire taps plotting extortion schemes and arranging payment plans for Melvin to "fix" traffic tickets. "He was very forthcoming, he did the absolute best he could," Rowell told the judge Wednesday, referring to Williams' cooperation with investigators.
Williams' testimony was key for prosecutors since he was the closest of the drug dealers to the sheriff. That testimony, according to prosecutors, helped the government make its case against Melvin, "I believe they convicted on all the counts he testified to," Rowell said.
"I want to apologize to you and the government and the courts and thank the government for what they have done for me," Williams told Currie Wednesday. The convicted drug conspirator faced a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, but a federal "Safety Valve" departure allowed prosecutors to ask for a reduced sentence for Williams. Currie sentenced Melvin's "right-hand man" to three and a half years.
Prosecutors credited Williams with giving up information to the FBI that allowed the government to widen the conspiracy timeframe to 2001. Williams faced a mandatory life sentence in the case, but prosecutor said he offered "substantial assistance" and testimony against Melvin, which allowed the judge a sentencing range of 201to 262 months. Currie sentenced Williams to 17 and a half years in prison.
LUCIUS ANTHONY DELANE
Lucius Anthony Delane faced a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life in prison. Delane also offered "substantial assistance" to the FBI, and took the stand against Melvin. Currie sentenced Delane to five years, three months in prison.
Prosecutors arrested Kari Afpelbeck months after agents launched the takedown of Sheriff E.J. Melvin and his co-conspirators in May. Afpelbeck pleaded guilty to lesser conspiracy charges after she admitted that she bought cocaine from Eric Hickmon, then distributed the drug inside Lee and Kershaw County.
Currie sentenced Afpelbeck to 16 months in prison.
Within the next two months, five remaining defendants will face Currie for sentencing in the case. Of those awaiting sentencing is E.J. Melvin. Melvin's sentencing hearing is set for January. He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life in prison and $4 million in fines.