State Grand Jury Issues Indictment Alleging Public Corruption by suspended Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, former Chester County Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse, and former Chester County Lt. Johnny Neal

(COLUMBIA, SC) – Jan. 9, 2020 – South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced today the unsealing of a 16-count indictment by the South Carolina State Grand Jury regarding allegations of corruption in the office of suspended Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood.

On December 11, 2019, the State Grand Jury issued an indictment of suspended Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, former Chester County Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse, and former Chester County Lt. Johnny Neal, for the following offenses:

(1) George Alexander Underwood (a/k/a “Big A”)
a. 2019-GS-47-43 (Chester County):

i. Count 1: Criminal Conspiracy, § 16-17-410: 0-5 years and/or $0-$5,000. This count alleges: “While UNDERWOOD was the elected Sheriff of Chester County and SPROUSE and NEAL were supervisory Deputy Sheriffs of Chester County, UNDERWOOD, SPROUSE, and NEAL did combine and conspire to spend all or part of the workday and direct other deputies to spend all or part of their workdays while on duty and being paid by the county, to construct improvements to a barn on UNDERWOOD’s property, and to do other work for the personal benefit of UNDERWOOD.”

ii. Count 2: Misconduct in Office, Common Law: 0-10 years. This court alleges: “While Sheriff, UNDERWOOD spent time during the regular workday, and did have subordinate deputies and sheriff’s office staff spend time during their regular workdays while on duty and being paid by the county, constructing improvements to UNDERWOOD’s barn and doing other work for UNDERWOOD’S personal benefit or on UNDERWOOD’s personal property. Therefore, UNDERWOOD did, by malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance, commit acts and omissions in breach of his duty of good faith, honesty, and accountability to the public.”

iii. Count 3: Use of Official Position or Office for Financial Gain Ethics Act Violation, § 8-13-700: 0-1 year and/or $0-$5,000. This count alleges: “UNDERWOOD used his position as elected Sheriff of Chester County to get free labor performed on his personal property and for his personal benefit by subordinate deputies and staff who depended on UNDERWOOD’s good graces for their continued employment. From this activity UNDERWOOD received an economic benefit distinct from that of the general public of more than fifty dollars.”

iv. Count 4: Embezzlement, § 16-13-210: 0-10 years and a fine in the discretion of the court. This count alleges: “While Sheriff of Chester County, and thus responsible for the funds entrusted to him for operation of necessary police services as well as for the employment of the deputies and staff subordinate to him, UNDERWOOD did have Sheriff’s Office deputies and staff performing services for him and on his property for his personal benefit during the work hours of those deputies and staff, and thus did convert to his own use the wages paid from public funds to those deputies and staff.”

v. Count 5: Criminal Conspiracy, § 16-17-410: 0-5 years and/or $0-$5,000. This count alleges: “While UNDERWOOD was the elected Sheriff of Chester County and SPROUSE was the supervisory Chief Deputy Sheriff of Chester County, UNDERWOOD and SPROUSE did combine and conspire to have public funds of Chester County be spent to pay for each of their spouse’s travel expenses for a trip to a police conference in Reno, Nevada.”

vi. Count 6: Embezzlement, § 16-13-210: 0-5 years and a fine in the discretion of the court. This count alleges: “While Sheriff, UNDERWOOD did obtain payment from the public funds of Chester County for travel expenses of his spouse for a trip to a police conference in Reno, Nevada, and such an expenditure was an improper personal use of public money.”

vii. Count 8: Forgery, § 16-13-10: 0-5 years and/or a fine in the discretion of the court. This count alleges: “UNDERWOOD did cause and procure an altered Expedia receipt for airline travel to be submitted to the Chester County finance offices for authorization of payment, when the receipt was altered to remove any reference to the fact that it included payment for approximately $2600 in expenses for UNDERWOOD’s wife and the wife of his Chief Deputy.”

viii. Count 10: Misconduct in Office, Common Law: 0-10 years. This count alleges: “While Sheriff, UNDERWOOD did cause the county to pay for unauthorized travel expenses for his wife and his Chief Deputy’s wife, for his personal benefit and the personal benefit of his Chief Deputy. Therefore, UNDERWOOD did, by malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance, commit acts and omissions in breach of his duty of good faith, honesty, and accountability to the public.”

ix. Count 12: Misconduct in Office, Common Law: 0-10 years. This count alleges: “While Sheriff, UNDERWOOD did cause payment from other entities and businesses for off-duty but official police security work to be routed through a Chester County detention center account in order to avoid oversight, withholding, and taxes, and did personally receive money routed through this account for off-duty security work he did not in fact do, including money that had been invoiced to the other entity or business for the work of subordinate officers that instead was paid to Sheriff UNDERWOOD. Therefore, UNDERWOOD did, by malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance, commit acts and omissions in breach of his duty of good faith, honesty, and accountability to the public.”

x. Count 14: Use of Official Position or Office for Financial Gain Ethics Act Violation, § 8-13-700: 0-1 year and/or $0-$5,000. This count alleges: “UNDERWOOD received money for off-duty but official police security work that he did not in fact do, including money that he received instead of the subordinate officers for whose work the business or entity had actually been invoiced. From this activity UNDERWOOD received an economic benefit distinct from that of the general public of more than fifty dollars.”

(2) Robert Andrew Sprouse
a. 2019-GS-47-43 (Chester County)

i. Count 1: Criminal Conspiracy, § 16-17-410: 0-5 years and/or $0-$5,000. This count alleges: “While UNDERWOOD was the elected Sheriff of Chester County and SPROUSE and NEAL were supervisory Deputy Sheriffs of Chester County, UNDERWOOD, SPROUSE, and NEAL did combine and conspire to spend all or part of the workday and direct other deputies to spend all or part of their workdays while on duty and being paid by the county, to construct improvements to a barn on UNDERWOOD’s property, and to do other work for the personal benefit of UNDERWOOD.”

ii. Count 5: Criminal Conspiracy, § 16-17-410: 0-5 years and/or $0-$5,000. This count alleges: “While UNDERWOOD was the elected Sheriff of Chester County and SPROUSE was the supervisory Chief Deputy Sheriff of Chester County, UNDERWOOD and SPROUSE did combine and conspire to have public funds of Chester County be spent to pay for each of their spouse’s travel expenses for a trip to a police conference in Reno, Nevada.”

iii. Count 7: Embezzlement, § 16-13-210: 0-5 years and a fine in the discretion of the court. This count alleges: “While Chief Deputy Sheriff of Chester County, SPROUSE did obtain payment from the public funds of Chester County for travel expenses of his spouse for a trip to a police conference to Reno, Nevada, and such an expenditure was an improper personal use of public money.”

iv. Count 9: Forgery, § 16-13-10: 0-5 years and/or a fine in the discretion of the court. This count alleges: “SPROUSE did cause and procure an altered Expedia receipt for airline travel to be submitted to the Chester County finance offices for authorization of payment, when the receipt was altered to remove any reference to the fact that it included payment for approximately $2600 in expenses for his wife and the wife of the Sheriff Underwood.”

v. Count 11: Misconduct in Office, Common Law: 0-10 years. This count alleges: While Chief Deputy Sheriff, SPROUSE did cause the county to pay for unauthorized travel expenses for his wife and the Sheriff’s wife, for his personal benefit and the personal benefit of Sheriff Underwood. Therefore, SPROUSE did, by malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance, commit acts and omissions in breach of his duty of good faith, honesty, and accountability to the public.

vi. Count 16: Misconduct in Office, Common Law: 0-10 years. This count alleges: While Chief Deputy Sheriff, SPROUSE did have subordinate deputies and sheriff’s office staff spend time during their regular workdays while on duty and being paid by the county, constructing improvements such as a barn on his property and doing other work for his personal benefit. Therefore, SPROUSE did, by malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance, commit acts and omissions in breach of his duty of good faith, honesty, and accountability to the public.

(3) Johnny Ricardo Neal, Jr.
a. 2019-GS-47-43 (Chester County)
i. Count 1: Criminal Conspiracy, § 16-17-410: 0-5 years and/or $0-$5,000. This count alleges: “While UNDERWOOD was the elected Sheriff of Chester County and SPROUSE and NEAL were supervisory Deputy Sheriffs of Chester County, UNDERWOOD, SPROUSE, and NEAL did combine and conspire to spend all or part of the workday and direct other deputies to spend all or part of their workdays while on duty and being paid by the county, to construct improvements to a barn on UNDERWOOD’s property, and to do other work for the personal benefit of UNDERWOOD.”

ii. Count 13: Misconduct in Office, Common Law: 0-10 years. This count alleges: “NEAL did personally receive money routed through this account for off-duty security work he did not in fact do, including money that had been invoiced to the other entity or business for the work of subordinate officers that instead was paid to him. Therefore, NEAL did, by malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance, commit acts and omissions in breach of his duty of good faith, honesty, and accountability to the public.”

iii. Count 15: Use of Official Position or Office for Financial Gain Ethics Act Violation, § 8-13-700: 0-1 year and/or $0-$5,000. This count alleges: “NEAL received money for off-duty but official police security work that he did not in fact do, including money that he received instead of the subordinate officers for whose work the business or entity had actually been invoiced. From this activity NEAL received an economic benefit distinct from that of the general public of more than fifty dollars.”

The case was investigated by the South Carolina State Grand Jury, with the assistance of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the South Carolina Attorney General’s State Grand Jury Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Attorney’s Office. The cases will be prosecuted by State Grand Jury Division Chief S. Creighton Waters, Senior Assistant Attorney General Brian Petrano, and Assistant Attorney General David Fernandez.

Attorney General Wilson stressed that all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty in a court of law.

You can read the indictments here.

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