SLED chief backs Ard grand jury

Ken Ard

COLUMBIA -- The state's top law enforcement officer signed off Monday on a request for a grand jury investigation of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard after an ethics investigation showed he used campaign cash for personal shopping sprees.

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel signed a petition calling for the grand jury to decide whether a criminal indictment is warranted, Attorney General Alan Wilson's spokesman Mark Plowden said.

"And the petition has been delivered to Judge (Clifton) Newman. I am prohibited by law from commenting further," Plowden said.

Ard's spokeswoman and lawyer did not immediately respond to messages Monday. Ard said last week he plans to fully cooperate with the investigation.

Ard last month paid a $48,000 fine to the Ethics Commission on 107 civil counts of breaking state campaign finance laws by using campaign cash for personal expenses. He also had to pay $12,500 to cover the costs of the state ethics investigation and pay his campaign $12,000 in reimbursement for improper spending.

The commission's review showed Ard's spending included a family vacation, iPads, a flat-screen television, clothes, meals and a trip to the SEC championship game last fall.

After Ard paid his ethics fines, Wilson set up a task force to review the ethics case. Last week, Wilson said he would refer it to the state grand jury to determine if the case merits criminal prosecution.

After Wilson announced his decision, Ard sent out a prepared statement saying he had asked Wilson for an investigation of the ethics issues. But Plowden said Ard only asked for a SLED investigation.

A SLED investigation would have delayed the grand jury's work. And the SLED agents would not have had the subpoena power they have when they work with the grand jury.

The ethics violations are considered misdemeanors. Each can bring up to a $5,000 fine and a year in prison.

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