Beleaguered Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who released a statement saying he "must take full ownership" of his mistakes and resigned his office as of 10 this morning has been
sentenced to five years of probation and a $5,000 fine on each of seven indictments against him.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson today disclosed seven charges against the now former lieutenant governor, including the accusations that he filed false campaign reports, created straw donors and worked to move campaign donation money to his own needs.
At a hearing today in a Richland County courtroom Ard pleaded guilty to each of the seven counts against him. Each has a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Judge Thomas Cooper sentenced Ard to no time in prison, five years probation and a $5,000 fine on the seven ethics violations.
During the sentencing hearing, Ard's attorney asked that his client be given probation, saying that Ard has already paid dearly for his transgressions. Four of Ard's friends were expected to testify at the hearing.
“Campaign transparency was in fact campaign deceit,” Wilson said earlier today during a press conference in Columbia.
Wilson’s comments were the first disclosing the details of the grand jury investigation into Ard. Each of the seven misdemeanor counts is punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
More than 70 people were interviewed and 46 subpoenas issued during the course of the investigation.
The scheme include a false scheme to project “a groundswell of support,” he said of Ard funneling money to others and then back to his campaign. The amount was in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Others donations were called “ghost” contributions done again to make it look as if Ard’s popularity was more than the actual, he said.
Additionally, he was charged with using campaign money for personal expenses, including shopping trips to Best Buy, and a family vacation to Washington, D.C.
The counts included four charges of unlawful reimbursement of campaign contributions, two charges of false reporting, and one charge covering multiple acts of transferring to personal use campaign fund.
Ard's future had been the subject of growing speculation in the wake of charges that he improperly spent campaign funds.
"During my campaign, it was my responsibility to make sure things were done correctly. I did not do that," Ard said in a statement. "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."
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has scheduled a news conference in Columbia at 1 p.m. today.
Charleston state Sen. Glenn McConnell confirmed around noon Friday that he is vacating his Senate seat to become lieutenant governor.
In the wake of Ken Ard's resignation, McConnell said he has no alternative as the current President Pro Tempore but to follow the constitutional order of succession.
Gov. Nikki Haley said of McConnell's decision to take the lieutenant governor's job: “We look forward to a great partnership with Senator McConnell and to continuing the great progress we’ve made in the arena of jobs and economic development as well as restructuring our government to better serve the citizens.”
Ard, a former Florence County Councilman released a statement thanking the people of the state for electing him, and he apologized to his family, supporters and staff.
"I regret the distraction this has caused for the people of this state, my family, my staff, and other elected officials in South Carolina," he said. "It is because of these mistakes that I must take full ownership and resign from the Office of Lieutenant Governor. Once again, I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility for the entire situation."
Gov. Haley received Ard's resignation at 9:55 a.m. and soon released a statement saying she appreciated the service Ken Ard and his wife Tammy have given to the state.
"They are good people who have given much of their time and efforts to Florence and the state as a whole," Haley said. "I look forward to continuing the progress South Carolina has made in the last 15 months with our next Lieutenant Governor."
South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly released his own statement just minutes after Ard's and said Ard had taken responsibility for his actions.
"His resignation will help our state move past this sad and unfortunate incident," Connelly said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Ken and his family during this time."
Ard thanked his campaign volunteers, his staff as well as his family. "You have lived this experience with me. There were challenges and setbacks, but you were steadfast in your support and were there for me at every turn," his statement said.
Ard said his brief tenure in the state's No. 2 position "truly has been an honor and an experience I will never forget."
Meanwhile, South Carolina Forward Progress, a Democratic-leaning group, said, "Today is another sad day for South Carolina."
Tyler Jones, spokesman for the group, said Ard's resignation is just the latest in a series of Republican embarassments. "The politicians in charge continue to fail this state. Extremism and corruption are rampant and crippling any hopes for progress," he said. "Hopefully this will send a message to the voters in South Carolina that in order to change our state for the better, we must first change those who have led us down this embarrassing path in the first place."
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