South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson speaks to reporters on March 9, 2012.
Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Former South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard has received five years probation for violating state ethics laws.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper sentenced Ard Friday afternoon to the probation, a $5,000 fine, and 300 hours of community service, after Ard pleaded guilty to seven counts of ethics violations.
"This is the toughest thing I've ever had to deal with. I don't like it, I wish it would go away, but I made this mess, I made these decisions, I did things the wrong way and I'm gonna have to accept responsibly for it," said Ard in court.
The judge felt Ard did a disservice to the state, but did not deserve prison crime for his violations, which were all misdemeanors. Prior to sentencing, an emotional Ard apologized to the court, and said the people of South Carolina deserved better. He choked up as he offered an apology to his wife and three children saying they lived the situation with him for the past year, though it was not their fault, and never complained.
"These people believe in me and I should have handled it the right way and I didn't. To every person in South Carolina whether they voted for me or didn't vote for me. They deserved better and I'll be honest, Your Honor, I never in a million years imagined I'd be here, but I'm humbled to have served at lieutenant governor for a year and two months. It was the honor of my life, but those people deserve somebody to do things the right way," Ard told the judge.
The courtroom appearance came after South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson revealed two hours earlier the state grand jury's indictment against the embattled politician.
Wilson told reporters a state grand jury indicted Ard for what Wilson called the "creation of a fictitious campaign."
Ard was charged with 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.
Wilson said Ard created a scheme during his candidacy for Lt. Governor in 2010 to create "the false appearance of a groundswell of political support through fictitious or bogus campaign contributions."
The attorney general alleges Ard funneled $75,000 to other people, then had them donate that money back to his campaign, to make it seem as if donors were lining up when they, in fact, were not. Wilson also says $87,000 in "phantom contributions" were part of the scheme. Investigators believe the contributions were either never made by the person listed or not made in the amount reported.
These campaign donations were reported to the State Ethics Commission, which certified them as true, and they were publicly listed.
"They were not true and correct," Wilson clarifies. "Campaign transparency was in reality campaign deceit."
Wilson said Ard was told about the charges, and that a conviction would likely result in his removal for office. Ard then decided to resign. Related Coverage: Ken Ard Resigns | Glenn McConnell to Become Lieutenant Governor
Wilson believes this is the first case of its kind to be prosecuted in South Carolina.
The indictment ends the work of the 18 member grand jury which began last July. Wilson briefly addressed critics of the probe who said it took too long.
"An investigation cannot move at warp speed, as some would like, but must move at the pace which thoroughness, justice, and the law demand."