The former sheriff of Chester County and two of his top deputies, all of whom were convicted of corruption related charges in April by a federal jury, have asked for a new trial, court documents show.
Alex Underwood and former deputies Robert Sprouse and Johnny Neal claim no evidence presented during trial merited their convictions. The jury convicted the trio on a combined 23 counts related to corruption, conspiracy and other charges, documents filed Monday show.
The jury deliberated one day, following the two-week trial in Columbia.
Underwood, 57, was convicted of conspiracy, wire fraud, deprivation of rights and federal program theft.
Sprouse, 46, was convicted of conspiracy, falsification of records, false statements and federal program theft.
Neal, 41, was convicted of conspiracy, deprivation of rights, wire fraud, federal program theft, and falsification of records.
Each remains free on personal recognizance bond as they await sentencing this summer. All three could face as much as 20 years in prison.
Federal prosecutors said the three conspired to use their positions to enrich themselves, cover up their misconduct, and obstruct investigations into their misconduct.
Appeal is normal process, but rarely works
The defense lawyers stated that even with the jury decision, the court should throw out the guilty verdicts.
“In deciding a motion for a new trial, the district court is not constrained by the requirement that it view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government,” defense lawyers stated in documents “When the evidence weighs so heavily against the verdict that it would be unjust to enter judgment, the court should grant a new trial.”
Demanding that the convictions be overturned is a common appeal strategy but there is no indication that federal Judge Michelle Childs, who presided over the trial, will reverse a jury decision. Childs has issued no judicial order since the filings were made.
The three separate motions filed by lawyers for each of the convicted defendants claim that federal Department of Justice prosecutors failed to show evidence that was beyond a reasonable doubt, the documents state.
But during the trial, U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors Rebecca Schuman and William Miller told jurors that Underwood, Sprouse and Neal lied repeatedly about money, records, reports and a “man-cave” built using deputy labor on Underwood’s property. That evidence was uncovered by the FBI after the the three lied about a false arrest of a Chester County man, then covered it up, prosecutors said.
The case against all three started with a Facebook video
Underwood was first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. He was indicted in 2019 and suspended from office. In 2020, while under indictment, he ran unsuccessfully for re-election against current Sheriff Max Dorsey.
Sprouse was Underwood’s chief deputy and Neal was a lieutenant in charge of the narcotics squad.
The case against all three began in 2018 when Underwood arrested a Chester County man who captured on video and posted police during a manhunt in rural Chester County. The man stood on his own property and didn’t cause a disturbance, according to trial evidence. Prosecutors showed a pattern of corruption to cover up the arrest. The pattern started before reports were filed after the FBI investigated the incident.
No incident report was filed until January 2019 when the FBI started investigating whether Underwood, Sprouse and Neal violated the man’s civil rights in a cover-up after the false arrest, prosecutors said during the trial. The arrest of the man and subsequent charges were later dropped.
Prosecutors said in a statement after the verdicts the evidence is clear against all three defendants.
“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 in order to add a bar, a television viewing area, and other amenities,” prosecutors said. “Underwood and Sprouse took family members on a trip to a conference in Reno, Nevada, and charged the cost 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.”
Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the DOJ in Wahsington, D.C., declined comment Monday on the new filings.