Indictment says sheriff, deputies built ‘party barn... man cave’ on the clock

Indictment says sheriff, deputies built ‘party barn... man cave’ on the clock
(WSOC)

CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. — A South Carolina grand jury indicted suspended Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood last month on charges related to corruption in office.

On Thursday, Underwood was indicted 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.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson unsealed the 16-count indictment Thursday.

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The charges include criminal conspiracy, misconduct in office, use of official position or office for financial gain, embezzlement and forgery.

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The indictment alleges Underwood had subordinate deputies and sheriff’s office staff spend time constructing improvements on his barn and doing other work on his property while they were supposed to be on duty.

In 2017, Underwood had his command staff supervise deputies as they converted an old barn on his property into a man cave, the indictment states.

“Instead of doing the business of the people of Chester County, he had them building a rather opulent party barn for the sheriff,” according to the indictment.

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.

Underwood is accused of altering an Expedia receipt “to remove any reference to the fact that it included payment for approximately $2,600 in expenses for Underwood’s wife and the wife of his Chief Deputy,” according to the indictment.

Former Chester County Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse and former Chester County Lt. Johnny Neal were also indicted on state charges.

You can read the indictments here.

Former Chester County sheriff, deputies plead not guilty to new charges

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.

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.

*The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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