COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard will get 5 years probation, a $5,000 fine, and 300 hours of community service after pleading guilty to seven counts of violating the State Ethics Act.
Ard appeared in court about an hour after Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the charges against him.
"I stand here humble, apologetic, and, your honor, there's so many people I need to apologize to. I'm ashamed of that. I should have done it differently. That's my fault, nobody else's. To every person in South Carolina, whether they voted for me or didn't vote for me, they deserve better and I'll be honest, your honor, I never in a million years imagined I'd be here," Ard said, eyes full of tears.
Judge Cooper announced his decision Friday, but not before verbally dressing down Ard in court.
"I think you have done a disservice to the people of South Carolina," Cooper said.
Ard pleaded to four counts of unlawful reimbursement of campaign contributions, two counts of falsely filing campaign reports, and one count encompassing multiple acts of personal use of campaign funds.
All seven counts constitute misdemeanor offenses. Ard could have faced 7 years in prison and a fine if convicted.
A state grand jury returned the indictment Friday just hours after Ard resigned from his position following an almost year-long ethics scandal.
Wilson said Ard, while running for lieutenant governor, fabricated a scheme to create the illusion that his campaign was receiving major support in the form of approximately $87,500 in campaign contributions.
"These donations to Mr. Ard's campaign were not a genuine demonstration of financial support," Wilson said. "Instead, they represented cash in the amount of $75,000 which was funneled from Mr. Ard to others and ultimately back to his campaign as purported contributions from citizens in the community."
"The funneled and phantom contributions, were certified to the State Ethics Commission and reported to the public at large as true and correct," Wilson said. "They were not true and correct. Campaign transparency was in reality campaign deceit."
Ard resigned from his post effective at 10:00 a.m. Friday. In a statement, he offered apologies to his family, his staff, volunteers, and the entire state of South Carolina. He also accepted blame.
"During my campaign, it was my responsibility to make sure things were done correctly. I did not do that," Ard's statement said. "There are no excuses nor is there need to share blame. It is my fault that the events of the past year have taken place."
Ard's ethics trouble began just after he was elected in 2010. Campaign disclosure forms showed he had been using campaign funds for things like a hotel room for the 2010 SEC Championship, gas, food, meals, airfare across the country, postage, advertising, phone services, and consulting.
"I've got a vast amount of my personal wealth tied up in this campaign, and I'm just trying to recoup as much of that as I can," Ard told the Columbia Free Times about his spending.
After a 5-month investigation, the commission found Ard guilty of 92 campaign finance violations and ordered him to pay more than $60,000 in fines.
Ethics turned Ard's case over to the attorney general's office last July. Since then, the grand jury has met at least four times to listen to testimony from those involved in Ard's campaign.
Before Ard won the lieutenant governor's seat, he had served as a Florence County councilman and chairman of the Florence County Republican Party.
With Ard out, the state constitution says the state Senate president would take over as lieutenant governor. State Senate President Glenn McConnell released a statement saying he would be taking the seat.