A federal jury has found former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin guilty on dozens of charges in a major drug case.
During his two week trial, prosecutors played recorded conversations they said showed Melvin planning to extort money from known drug dealers in exchange for protecting them from the FBI. The FBI said it gave Melvin a list of known dealers as part of a sting operation in April, then wiretapped his phone as he planned to extort those on the list. State law enforcement arrested Melvin in May. He later resigned.
Several of those same dealers testified against Melvin in exchange for a plea deal in their own cases. Prosecutors also accused Melvin of selling drugs from his sheriff’s vehicle. US assistant attorney Mark Moore told jurors the evidence shows Melvin was “absolutely corrupt.”
Melvin’s defense said the former sheriff was using the the dealers as informants. Melvin’s attorney cautioned jurors on the character of dealers who had “cut deals” with prosecutors in exchange for testimony. Melvin’s attorney said there was no evidence to show that the sheriff was getting rich off any alleged scheme.
The jury deliberated for 15 hours before finding Melvin guilty Tuesday on 37 counts. The judge denied bond, meaning Melvin will be imprisoned until his sentencing in January. He faces life in prison.
Several of Melvin’s co-defendants were sentenced Tuesday. Gary Ervin received 22 years in jail, while dealer Eric Hickmon, who testified against Melvin, received a 17.5 year sentence. First-time offender Sheldon Bradley was sentenced to the minimum 10 years in jail and Antonio Holloman, a dealers on the FBI list, received a 33-month sentence.