SC county’s former top official gets 10 years in prison for dealing drugs in office

For five years until his arrest in 2020, Kenneth “Shane” Stuart was the top elected official in South Carolina’s Chester County. On Wednesday, a judge sentenced Stuart to 10 years in prison for dealing drugs and misconduct in office.

S.C. Circuit Judge Eugene Griffith handed down a 10-year sentence for charges of meth trafficking, meth distribution, misconduct in office and conspiracy, S.C. Assistant Attorney General David Fernandez said. The drug trafficking is a no-parole offense, so Stuart must serve 85% of that before he is eligible for release.

Stuart, 50, previously pleaded guilty to the charges in 2022, but was not sentenced on all of them until Wednesday. He receives about 18 months credit for time served because he has been in prison since he pleaded guilty in October 2022. So, he could be released in about seven years, prosecutors said.

From top Chester County official to jail

As county supervisor, Stuart chaired the county council, oversaw hundreds of employees and managed the county’s $28 million dollar budget. He drove a county truck with the Chester County seal and his name on the door. The county is mostly rural, with a population of about 32,000 between Columbia and Rock Hill.

He also sold methamphetamine out of his county truck to try and avoid police detection for the drugs he moved into neighboring York and Lancaster counties, prosecutors said. Fernandez told Judge Griffith that Stuart was a drug addict who became involved with others in the drug business in 2020.

“Very clearly, Mr. Stuart was addicted to methamphetamine,” Fernandez said. “He did have a drug problem ... He consumed methamphetamine daily.”

Stuart’s drug schemes fell apart in September 2020 when he was arrested. A statewide grand jury investigating corruption in Chester County indicted Stuart for his drug dealing and other public misdeeds. He was immediately suspended from office by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster.

Judge Eugene Griffith sentences Shane Stuart to 10 years in prison Wednesday at the Chester County Courthouse.
Judge Eugene Griffith sentences Shane Stuart to 10 years in prison Wednesday at the Chester County Courthouse.

When Stuart was arrested at his Chester County home in 2020, police found meth, guns, scales and a hidden storage area. He also coordinated a scam to steal county vehicle catalytic converters that have valuable metals inside and pocket the cash.

Prosecutors asked for a sentence of seven to 15 years.

Prosecutors: Stuart had to be held accountable

Stuart violated the trust of the citizens of Chester County, Fernandez said.

“He had a promising station in life and a career,” Fernandez said. “But in his position of authority and as a public official, there has to be accountability for that.”

South Carolina State Grand Jury Chief Attorney Creighton Waters, who worked on the case for years, told The Herald prosecutors moved quickly in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to seek indictments because of the drug involvement and Stuart’s position of authority in Chester County.

“This was as whirlwind a State Grand Jury investigation as we have done, and it was right in the middle of COVID,” Waters said in a statement to The Herald Wednesday. “It was important that we get methamphetamine out of the county supervisor’s office as quickly as possible. Today’s result closes the chapter of Shane Stuart with firm but fair accountability.”

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement to The Herald his office remains committed to fighting both drug trafficking and public corruption.

“The State Grand Jury case of Shane Stuart involved both,” Wilson said.

Wilson praised the work of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, State Law Enforcement Division, and 6th Circuit prosecutors for their work in the case.

Stuart apologizes for letting Chester down

Stuart appeared in court Wednesday wearing a S.C. Department of Corrections jumpsuit. He told Judge Griffith he was in a deep depression when he started using drugs and became involved in illegal activity.

Stuart was contrite for his misdeeds.

“Some of the things I have done are bad, very bad,” Stuart said in court. “I want to apologize. This has hurt a lot of people.”

Stuart said he spent 16 years in law enforcement as a Chester County Sheriff’s Office deputy and corrections officer, and six years serving in Afghanistan in the military. He then ran for office.

“I know better than what I have done,” Stuart said.

Stuart asked for leniency on sentencing because he wants to again help Chester County when he is released.

“I am trying to better myself,” Stuart said. “One day I will be out and will help the community once again.”

Stuart cooperated with police

Final sentencing was delayed until Wednesday because Stuart cooperated with South Carolina state police and prosecutors into an ongoing drug and corruption investigation after he was arrested, prosecutors said.

Fernandez said Stuart’s information to law enforcement and cooperation was important to an investigation that remains ongoing. Stuart was not the leader of the drug scheme, but he was drawn into it through drug use and his position as Chester supervisor, Fernandez said.

Ed Martin, Stuart’s lawyer, asked that Stuart get the lowest possible sentence because he’s gone through treatment in prison. He also noted Stuart cooperated with the police investigation.

Another man in the scheme, Ace Donovan Hembree, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2023, according to prosecutors and court records. Hembree was a former Chester County animal control director who was hired by Stuart.

Hembree appeared briefly in the same court Wednesday. He has asked the court for a sentence reduction, but that matter was not resolved Wednesday and remains pending, the judge and prosecutors said Wednesday.