Lee Co. Sheriff E. J. Melvin resigns, expected in federal court today

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Lee County Sheriff E. J. Melvin has resigned his office after being arrested early Saturday morning on federal drug conspiracy charges.

In a handwritten letter to Governor Sanford, Melvin says, "I sheriff E.J. Melvin resign from on May 1, 2010 from the Lee County Sheriff's Office.  Sheriff E.J. Melvin."  The letter is also signed by SLED witness, Cecil J. Carter.

According to SC Rep. Grady A. Brown, Sheriff Melvin resigned Saturday afternoon after being arrested that morning.  Brown called the Attorney General's office this morning looking for an official opinion on what steps Lee County should take after the resignation of a sheriff.

According to Governor Mark Sanford's spokesperson, Ben Fox, "We have received a resignation letter from the Lee County Sheriff, meaning the Governor has the authority to appoint an Interim Sheriff... State law stipulates that the "second in command," the Chief Deputy in Lee County. is now the acting Sheriff.

Melvin is expected to appear in federal court this afternoon for a bond hearing.

Acting U.S. Attorney Kevin F. McDonald, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI David Thomas, and SLED Director Reggie Lloyd said federal and state agents arrested Sheriff "E. J." Melvin, 47, Brenda LaShawn Ellerby, 26, Antonio Holloman, 23, Larry Williams, 51, Eric Andre Hickman, 34, Anthony Lee Williams, 37, and Sheldon Maurice Bradley, 24, all of Bishopville.

Melvin and the others arrested Saturday are charged with conspiracy since 2006 to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. Melvin will have his first court appearance at 2:30pm Monday for a bond hearing.

Melvin has served as sheriff for Lee County since 2001. In an interesting twist, WIS News 10 cameras actually followed Melvin on a 2004 drug raid in Lee County for the very same drugs he's accused of dealing with.

None of the other people arrested are affiliated with the sheriff's department, according to McDonald.

The federal arrest warrants were issued earlier this week under seal, and will remain sealed until the defendants make an initial appearance in federal court in Columbia on Monday. Because the matter is sealed, officials said no further information concerning the case will be made available until the seal is lifted in

The maximum penalty each defendant could receive is life imprisonment and a fine of $4 million dollars. Federal statutes also call for mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for at least ten years.

"The law-abiding people of Lee County expect their sheriff to likewise observe and uphold the law," said McDonald. "When he fails to do that, and indeed commits crimes as we have alleged in this case, the citizens are his victims. Lee County taxpayers certainly don't deserve corrupt law enforcement in exchange for their tax dollars."

"The vast majority of public officials – both elected and appointed – are honest in their work and committed to serving their fellow citizens," said Thomas. "Unfortunately, a small percentage abuse the public trust. Public corruption is different from other crimes. It does not just strike at the heart of good government – it can strike at the security of our communities and our nation. Public corruption erodes public confidence, and undermines the strength of our democracy."

"When a law enforcement officer uses his official position to advance a criminal purpose, his community suffers," said Lloyd. "We must act swiftly and decisively to remove corrupt officers, and restore the public's faith in law enforcement. SLED is committed to working with our federal partners to root out public corruption at all levels, but particularly in law enforcement."

McDonald said additional arrests are expected in the case, which was investigated by the FBI and SLED. Assistance on the arrests Saturday was provided by the Florence County Sheriff's Department. McDonald has assigned the case to Assistant U.S. Attorneys J.D. Rowell, Mark C. Moore, and Debbie Barbier of the Columbia office for prosecution.

Melvin is being held at the Lexington County Detention Center. Major Daniel Simon said Lee County Coroner Alford Elmore will be in charge of the sheriff's department until Gov. Mark Sanford appoints an interim sheriff.

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