Guilty plea likely for former Sen. Ford

Ford

Former state Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston on Wednesday is expected to enter a guilty plea to some of the eight ethics-related charges filed against him covering his past campaign accounts, including those tied to his 2010 run for governor.

A hearing has been scheduled at 10 a.m. in the Richland County Courthouse in front of Circuit Judge Robert Hood.

Ford’s attorney, Bill Runyon of Charleston, confirmed that a plea agreement is being worked on with prosecutors in advance of the court appearance.

“The final details are being hammered out,” he said. “You can assume that a plea deal is in the works.”

If a plea is entered and accepted, Runyon said it would still be at a later date that Ford is sentenced or ordered to pay any form of restitution. “Until we can get a handle on some of his finances,” Runyon said.

He added that it would be easier to figure out what happened to the troubled cash accounts at S.C. State University “than it is to figure out Sen. Ford’s” money situation.

Ford was indicted in November on eight counts of violating state ethics laws for allegedly spending thousands of dollars in campaign cash on himself from his Senate accounts and from those tied to his pursuit of the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor in 2010.

The charges came nearly 18 months after he had abruptly resigned his seat in Columbia in June 2013 during a probe by the state Senate into his spending habits.

While the eight charges filed by the Attorney General’s Office covered areas that previously were explored by the Senate Ethics Committee, the filing of formal charges meant Ford was being accused of criminal wrongdoing.

If convicted on all the counts, Ford faces a maximum 21 years in state prison.

One of the charges is a felony count of forgery for allegedly altering checks drawn on his campaign account. Other charges accuse Ford, 65, of failing to accurately disclose thousands of dollars of campaign contributions and expenditures.

The Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday it could not discuss the case, beyond issuing the notice of Wednesday’s court appearance time.

Runyon earlier said that Ford’s biggest fault as a politician was sloppy record-keeping regarding his campaign donations and spending.

Ford was indicted by the Richland County grand jury, which has jurisdiction over Columbia and the Statehouse where lawmakers file disclosure documents. It is the same grand jury that indicted former House Speaker Bobby Harrell of West Ashley, who pleaded guilty last year to six ethics-related charges that also cost him his political office.

Harrell was put on probation and ordered to pay fines, which is likely to be a similar fate Ford faces because, other than arrests during civil rights demonstrations, he has no criminal history.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.