A former South Carolina sheriff and two deputies were sentenced yesterday for various charges relating to their conspiracy to violate federal law, deprivation of civil rights during an unlawful arrest, obstruction of justice, and misuse of public funds and personnel.
Former Chester County Sheriff George Alexander Underwood, 59, of Chester; Chief Deputy Robert Andrew Sprouse, 47, of Ridgeway; and former Chester County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Johnny Ricardo Neal Jr., 42, of Lancaster, were convicted of conspiracy to violate federal law and to commit federal program theft in April 2021 following a 10-day jury trial. Underwood and Neal were additionally convicted of deprivation of rights and wire fraud. Sprouse and Neal were additionally convicted of falsifying records, and Sprouse was found guilty of making false statements.
Underwood and Neal were both sentenced to 46 months, and Sprouse was sentenced to 24 months in prison.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Underwood, Sprouse, and Neal conspired to use their positions to enrich themselves by obtaining money to which they were not entitled; to cover up their misconduct; and to obstruct investigations into their misconduct. Evidence showed Underwood and Neal violated the rights of a Chester County resident, K.S., who was filming the Sheriff’s Office’s response to a crash scene on Nov. 20, 2018, by arresting and detaining him without probable cause. When the FBI began investigating these civil rights violations, Sprouse and Neal created false incident reports and Sprouse made false statements to the FBI to cover up their misconduct.
Additionally, court documents and evidence presented at trial showed the three defendants directed on-duty Sheriff’s Office employees to provide manual labor or other services that personally benefited Underwood and Sprouse, including requiring them to help with extensive renovations of a barn on Underwood’s property to add a bar, a television viewing area, and other amenities. Separately, Underwood and Sprouse took family members on a trip to a conference in Reno, Nevada, and charged the costs to the Sheriff’s Office. Underwood and Neal also engaged in a scheme in which they skimmed money from payments owed to other Sheriff’s Office employees for off-duty work at public safety checkpoints.
Underwood, Sprouse, and Neal were removed from their positions with the Chester County Sheriff’s Office in approximately May 2019, after they were initially indicted by a federal grand jury.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic of the FBI’s Columbia Field Office made the announcement.
The FBI investigated the case.
Trial Attorneys William M. Miller and Rebecca M. Schuman of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section prosecuted the case.