Ex-SC sheriff gets 17 years on drug charges

      Former sheriff EJ Melvin was sentenced to 17 years in prison Friday.

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin has been sentenced to 17 years and eight months behind bars for taking kickbacks to protect drug dealers.

      M elvin showed no reaction as his sentence on drug conspiracy and racketeering charges was handed down in federal court Friday.

      Authorities say Melvin ruled his county like a kingpin. They claim he repeatedly took hundreds of dollars in handshake bribes to keep drug dealers out of trouble and also took kickbacks for catering barbecue dinners for county functions and contracts.

      Prosecutors asked for a 30-year sentence for the man the drug dealers called "Big Dog," calling Melvin's case the most audacious example of public corruption in South Carolina in the past two decades.

      The 48-year-old former sheriff maintains his innocence.