by Ashleigh N. Dye
On October 14, 2022, a former South Carolina sheriff reported to the U.S. Penitentiary in Big Sandy, Kentucky, to begin serving a 46-month sentence for fraud and corruption-related charges.
Alex “Big A” Underwood, 59, was the Chester County Sheriff from 2012 until he was suspended by Gov. Henry McMaster (R) in May 2019 — the same month he was indicted by a federal grand jury for fraud, federal program theft, conspiracy and deprivation of rights.
The former sheriff’s troubles began with a 2018 car crash in front of his home. The driver, Kevin Simpson, ended up under arrest for attempting to livestream sheriff’s deputies and other responders. The sheriff kept him jailed three days without charges. When Simpson reported this, the FBI opened a civil rights investigation that discovered a false arrest report for Simpson created three months after the incident.
But the investigation also found that Underwood skimmed funds from federal DUI task-force money, used county funds to pay for a Nevada vacation with a deputy and their respective spouses, and misused deputies to construct a “man cave” in Underwood’s barn, sometimes pulling them away from drug stakeouts. Convicted along with Underwood in April 2021 were former Deputy Chief Robert Sprouse, 47, and former Lt. Johnny Ricardo Neal, 42. Underwood is one of 13 former South Carolina sheriffs convicted of a crime since 2010. [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p.1.]
Sprouse received a 24-month prison sentence and reported to prison in September 2022. Neal was sentenced to 46 months and reported to prison the same day that Underwood did. All three men have filed appeals at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. See: USA v. Underwood, USCA (4th Cir.), Case No. 22-4428; USA v. Sprouse, USCA (4th Cir.), Case No. 22-4405; and USA v. Neal, USCA (4th Cir.), Case No. 22-4429.
On October 6, 2022, Underwood lost a bid before the federal court for the District of South Carolina to remain out of prison on bail while his appeal is pending. See: USA v. Underwood, USDC (D.S.C.), Case No. 0:19-cr-00420. In addition, he faces state charges related to the findings of the FBI investigation.
Additional sources: Rock Hill Herald, WCNC
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