Underwood, deputies hear new federal indictments

Plead Not Guilty to Charges

CHESTER – As they did when facing their first round of federal indictments, suspended Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood and two former deputies entered “not guilty” pleas on new charges in federal court Tuesday.

Tuesday’s proceedings were quick and to the point. Underwood, Robert Sprouse (a former chief deputy) and Johnny Neal (a former lieutenant) acknowledged they understood the charges. They entered their pleas and the state indicated it was fine with the bond conditions continuing as is. Those conditions include that none of the three may possess a firearm or contact any potential witnesses in their cases, including any employee of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office. All three were forced to relinquish their passports and they may not leave the state without permission of the court.

New Charges

The most recent indictments say Underwood, Sprouse and Neal used their positions as law enforcement officers to intimidate others, took “family members on trips (while) charging the cost to the sheriff’s office,“ directed “payments for contracted security detail services through a particular sheriff’s office bank account to avoid tax payment,” used “sheriff’s office employees to conduct manual labor that personally benefitted…Underwood while the employees were actively working for the sheriff’s office” and “establishing a climate of fear within the sheriff’s office to direct and secure obedience among subordinates.”

According to the indictments, Underwood and Sprouse took their wives to Reno, Nevada in 2017, using the county procurement process and money while claiming their wives were employees of the sheriff’s office. Underwood also took his wife (Chester County Chief Magistrate Angel Underwood) to New Orleans that year, again using the county procurement policy and money.

Upgraded Travel

It is not mentioned in the indictment, but the trips nearly always also included upgraded travel and hotel room and chauffer services all paid for with county tax dollars. The indictment notes that Underwood and Sprouse provided personal checks to cover the expenses incurred by their wives on those trips in March of this year, nearly two years after the trips took place and only after they had been questioned about the expenses by the Charleston Post and Courier.

Avoided Paying Taxes

The indictments also indicate that from 2015 until 2019, Underwood, Neal and “others known to the grand jury, directed security-detail payment to flow through accounts…for the purpose of avoiding employment taxes.” Chester County Council recently learned that in the past few years, $238,000 has essentially been paid under the table to deputies for outside security work. New W-2 forms will have to be issued to 70 impacted employees and the county may end up on the hook for paying more than $30,000 in back FICA taxes. Underwood is also alleged to have used on-duty deputies to perform manual labor at his home, including renovating a barn.

The three were originally indicted in April after allegedly illegally arresting Kevin Simpson of Fort Lawn in November of 2018. Simpson’s arrest was streamed live on Facebook and when the three discovered that, they allegedly returned to his home without a warrant, took his phone and tried to delete the video. Those charges ranged from creating a false incident report, to violating Simpson’s rights and causing him bodily injury, to lying to federal investigators and evidence tampering.

This article was reprinted with permission from The Chester News and Reporter.

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