COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A former South Carolina sheriff has been convicted in federal court of abusing his power and stealing money from government programs.
Ex-Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood is the 13th sheriff in South Carolina to be convicted of criminal charges since 2010.
Underwood, 57, could face years in prison when he is sentenced in a few months. A jury on Friday found him guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, deprivation of rights and federal program theft.
The felony convictions also ends Underwood’s 35 years in law enforcement, which included a long career as a State Law Enforcement Division agent before being elected sheriff in Chester County in 2012.
Convicted along with Underwood were two of his former deputies— Johnny Neal and Robert Sprouse — after a two-week trial.
The investigation into Underwood started after he jailed a man for three days for no reason after the man recorded the aftermath of a police chase and wreck that happened near his home.
Underwood created a false police report when the FBI started to investigate that said the man stepped out of his yard into the public roadway and cursed at police, according to indictments.
FBI agents would later find Underwood skimmed overtime meant for his deputies, used taxpayer money to fly first-class to a Las Vegas conference with his wife and then tried to cover up that she went and had on-duty deputies work to build a party barn at his home, even pulling officers away from drug stakeouts, prosecutors said.
Underwood’s lawyer told reporters outside the federal courthouse Friday that he will appeal, although he wants to review the case before deciding the exact reasons.
During the trial, attorney Jake Moore pointed out what Underwood did for the community, like hold parties for his deputies at his newly renovated home. Moore also pointed out Underwood was being tried by prosecutors specializing in public corruption out of Washington.
“He is one of the finest people I have ever known,” Moore said.
Underwood joins a long list of sheriff convicted of crimes. Thirteen sheriffs in South Carolina’s 46 counties have either been found guilty by a jury or pleaded guilty since 2010.
They’ve committed a range of crimes – from using inmates for personal labor to running a drug operation to protecting people in the county illegally from being deported to creating false police reports of stolen credit cards to help a credit counseling business.
Five of the 12 sheriff sentenced so far initially were given prison time.
Underwood was suspended from acting as sheriff when he was indicted in 2019. Underwood ran for sheriff again in 2020 while awaiting trial and received 37% of the vote, losing to Max Dorsey, who was named interim sheriff when Underwood was arrested.