Prosecutors began laying out their drug conspiracy and racketeering case against former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin on Monday, telling jurors the lawman began abusing his power as soon as he was sworn in as sheriff, soliciting bribes from drug dealers and extorting businesses for kickbacks.
"You are going to get a glimpse into a world that existed for a very long time in Lee County," Assistant U.S. Attorney Debbie Barbier told the jury. "The evidence will show you that the only person he was serving was himself."
Melvin resigned in May after he and 11 others were charged with conspiring to deal drugs in Lee County. His co-defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him, and the FBI says it has multiple wiretaps between Melvin and several of them, capturing conversations about selling drugs and protecting dealers from investigation.
One witness also told the FBI agent a long time drug dealer had told him, "If it wasn't for E.J., I wouldn't be doing the things that I do." The same witness told investigators he saw Melvin deal cocaine from his sheriff's office SUV in 2006.
Barbier told jurors that Melvin for nearly a decade abused his power as sheriff by extorting drug dealers for money to protect them from prosecution. In April, state police officers shared a list of possible dealers with Melvin, who later began tipping off those dealers and making plans to get money from others in exchange for steering agents away, Barbier said.