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4th Circuit affirms sheriff’s convictions, sentence

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A former South Carolina sheriff on Tuesday lost an appeal challenging his conviction and 17-year sentence in a drug conspiracy case.

In an unpublished opinion, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin hadn’t made strong enough arguments that a trial court judge should have separated charges accusing him of lying to authorities.

The appeals court also dismissed Melvin’s claim that some statements and testimony admitted at trial were hearsay, including a witness who said that some drug dealers paid Melvin for protection from authorities. In a six-page opinion, the court also wrote that it didn’t need to hear oral arguments in the case because they “would not aid in the decisional process.”

Melvin, 50, has been in federal prison since his November 2010 conviction on more than three dozen charges of drug conspiracy and racketeering. Prosecutors said he ran Lee County like a kingpin, making it a safe haven for his favored drug dealers, repeatedly taking hundreds of dollars in bribes from them, along with taking kickbacks for catering barbecue dinners for county functions and on contracts to have the floors cleaned at the sheriff’s office.

The scheme came tumbling down more than two years ago after the FBI and state agents went to Melvin with a list of people they said might be drug dealers and asked for his help. Investigators said Melvin immediately started to warn some people on the list and make plans to extort money from others to stop agents from looking at them.

The former sheriff steadily maintained his innocence, saying he was running a one-man undercover operation and the dealers were critical informants he needed for his investigations. At trial, defense attorneys argued that the sheriff was trying to protect his confidential informants and was playing along in taped conversations that prosecutors said sealed his fate.

Melvin is serving a 17-year sentence in federal prison in Texas. A federal judge also ordered him to pay nearly $19,000 in restitution to Lee County.

The attorney who represented Melvin in his appeal was out of the country Tuesday and did not immediately return an email message seeking comment.