Former Lt. Gov. Ard pleads guilty to 7 ethics charges

Attorney General Alan Wilson made the announcement Friday afternoon.

COLUMBIA (WACH) - Former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard has been sentenced to 5 years probation, 300 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine after pleading guilty to seven counts of violating state ethics laws shortly after indictments were handed down Friday afternoon.

The plea Friday afternoon came hours after he resigned from office at a scheduled apperance in Richland County Court.

The South Carolina State Grand Jury indicted former Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard on 7 counts of violating the State Ethics Act Friday afternoon.

Ard choked up while addressing the court as he apologized to his wife and three children, and the people of South Carolina.

"To every person in South Carolina, whether they voted for me or not, they deserve better," said Ard. "I'll be honest your honor, I never in a million years imagined I'd be here. I'm ashamed of that. I should have done it differently. That's my fault, nobody else's."

Attorney General Alan Wilson said Ard gave $75,000 of his own campaign money to people who then gave that money back to him as individual contributions, creating the appearance of a swell of support through bogus campaign contributions.

Those contributions were certified to the State Ethics Commission and reported to the public as legitimate.

"They were not true and correct," said Wilson. "Campaign transparency was in reality campaign deceit."

Wilson says Ard also received $87,500 in contributions that could not be matched to the person who allegedly gave them.

Just hours after Ard resigned, Wilson announced Friday the State Grand Jury charges which were nine months in the making. The grand jury issued 46 subpoaenas, and heard from 18 witnesses, resulting in 113 documents totaling nearly 7,000 pages of material.

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"This investigation is unprecedented in terms of who is involved," said Wilson. "To our knowledge, the creation of such a fictitious campaign has never been criminally charged before in this state's history."

Some were critical of the length of the time it took to deliver the indictments and suggested that due to the fact Ard is a Republican, in a state where all the Constitutional offices are held by Republicans, he would avoid any legal troubles.

"There's nothing fun about this for anybody. It doesn't matter what political party you're in," said Wilson. "I swore an oath a year and two months ago to uphold the Constitution and enforce the laws of the state. I believe that I along with members of this office have done that."

Ard has been under a legal cloud for several months. The state grand jury began investigating Ard in July. The 48-year-old Republican has already paid a $48,000 ethics fine for using money from his campaign to pay for personal items, like clothes, football tickets and a flat-screen TV.

Ard easily won election in 2010, and then freely spent campaign cash on tickets to the 2010 Southeastern Conference title game where South Carolina's football team played, as well as iPads, clothes, a flat-screen television and video game system. One spending spree at a Best Buy emptied $3,056 from his account.

Ard paid the $48,000 fine in July after being hit with 107 civil counts of using campaign cash for personal expenses that also included a family vacation, clothes and meals. He also had to pay $12,500 to cover the costs of the state Ethics Commission investigation and had to reimburse his campaign $12,000.

"Whether I knew the rules or not, my name was on the sign," Ard said. "It was my responsibility to make sure things were done the right way."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)