New charges against SC sheriff including pocketing overtime
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A suspended South Carolina sheriff already facing federal charges was indicted Thursday on state charges that he took money meant to pay overtime for his deputies and had officers convert his barn into a flashy man cave while they were on the clock, prosecutors said.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood and his chief deputy also altered travel and expense receipts for a conference they attended with their wives in Reno, Nevada, then inflated their county reimbursement by lying and saying two other officers joined them on the trip, prosecutors said.
In all, Underwood was indicted Thursday on 10 counts in state court and faces up to 62 years in prison if convicted of all the new charges.
Underwood was indicted last spring on federal charges including civil rights violations. Prosecutors in that case said Underwood created a false police report to justify jailing a man who refused to stop videotaping following a police chase. They said Underwood then lied to the FBI when they started investigating.
As with the federal charges, Underwood was released on his own recognizance. Federal prosecutors said his trial in their jurisdiction should begin this spring.
Former Chester County Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse and former sheriff’s Lt. Johnny Neal Jr. are also charged along with Underwood in both state and federal court. Authorities said they conspired with each other in the cases.
In 2017, Underwood had his command staff supervise deputies as they converted an old barn on his property into a man cave, Waters said.
“Instead of doing the business of the people of Chester County, he had them building a rather opulent party barn for the sheriff,” Waters said.
Underwood also assigned his deputies in uniform to provide security for private events, paid them through a jail account so taxes would not be withheld, then pocketed the overtime for himself and other supervisors, Waters said.
The final state charges allege that Underwood and Sprouse took their wives to a conference in Reno, Nevada, but falsified receipts to claim that two other officers went so they could get money back for their wives’ travel, Waters said.
Attorneys for all three men said they have cooperated with the investigations and are waiting to answer the charges at the proper time.
“We knew that something was coming. I’m not surprised by it. What’s scary is that the government stands up and wants everyone to believe this is true. No one has talked to Mr. Underwood about it,” defense attorney Stanley Myers said.
Underwood is charged with three counts of misconduct in office, two counts of criminal conspiracy, two counts of using his official post for financial gain, two counts of embezzlement and one count of forgery.
Sprouse was indicted on six additional charges. Prosecutors said deputies also started building a barn for him while on the job but stopped after reporters and state agents started investigating.
Neal is indicted on three additional state counts.
Underwood is one of 12 South Carolina sheriffs to face criminal charges in the past decade for breaking the law during their official duties.
On Wednesday, former Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone pleaded guilty to misconduct in office and embezzlement, admitting he used county funds and drug seizure money to buy groceries, window tinting and other personal items. He was sentenced to probation.
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