The scheming and plotting that ended Friday with a former South Carolina sheriff being sentenced to more than 17 years in prison started nearly a decade ago when E.J. Melvin needed money for youth baseball uniforms.
The newly-elected Lee County sheriff asked a friend and small-time drug dealer Larry Williams for help. Williams took $500 in profits from his illicit trade, cementing the pair's strange partnership.
For most of his time as sheriff, Melvin picked out certain drug dealers and let them operate in his county with immunity as long as they paid bribes of a couple hundred dollars, often given to him in a handshake or to Williams. He'd fix a traffic ticket or drop a minor arrest for a similar amount. And he stole from the county's treasury too, taking kickbacks from the man hired to clean the floors at the sheriff's office or from catering his famous barbecue for county functions, authorities said.
Prosecutors called Melvin's case the most audacious example of public corruption in South Carolina in the past two decades. The judge sentenced the man called "Big Dog" by drug dealers to 17 years and eight months on Friday.
Melvin, 48, has been in federal prison since his conviction in November on 38 charges of drug conspiracy and racketeering.