A Richland County grand jury has returned eight indictments against a longtime Charleston County state senator who stepped down last year.
Former State Sen. Robert Ford is accused of misusing thousands of dollars in campaign funds, then altering records when Senate staffers began investigating him, according to the indictments released by the State Attorney General’s Office on Friday.
Although Ford lives in North Charleston, the case was handled in South Carolina’s capital city due to campaign disclosure forms he filed with the State Ethics Commission.
The former Democratic senator is charged with Misconduct in Office, two counts of Use of Campaign Funds for Personal Expenses, two counts of Depositing Campaign Contributions into Personal Bank Accounts, two counts of False Reporting, and Forgery. He could face a maximum of 19 years in prison and $20,000 fine, plus possible reimbursement of the missing funds.
The charges stem from a Senate Ethics Committee investigation last year into numerous inappropriate purchases Ford had made with campaign funds from 2008 to 2013. Ford resigned from his office during the investigation, citing heart problems. Within two weeks, the Attorney General’s Office had turned the case over to the State Law Enforcement Division for further investigation.
Ford had served in the Senate for 20 years before his resignation.
Ford’s attorney William Runyon has repeatedly maintained throughout the proceedings that Ford did not intend to commit fraud, but simply used his personal checking account for campaign funds. “His bookkeeping was extremely poor and a lot of these issues can be related to bookkeeping,” Runyon told South Carolina Radio Network on Friday. “Some of the issues are related to the confusing nature of how he financed his campaigns with personal credit and loans.”
During last year’s Ethics Committee hearing, a staffer laid out financial documents and bank records that he said showed Ford used campaign funds to buy sex toys, gym memberships, and a home improvement loan. Ford maintained at the time that the adult products were joke gifts to his staff, while his attorney admitted the loan was improperly used , he said it was to finance a reelection campaign, not for home repairs.
For the first time, prosecutors formally accused Ford of submitting altered campaign fund check copies to Ethics Committee investigators. The indictment does not say how Ford “altered” them, but Runyon said the documents had been partially damaged by water and the senator “tried to reconstruct them” when he should have requested new copies.
The indictment marks the second time in three months that a longtime Charleston County legislator was indicted by a Richland County grand jury for misusing campaign funds. Former House Speaker Bobby Harrell was indicted on nine counts in September after state prosecutors said he improperly reimbursed himself for flights on his private plane, then misleading ethics officials about the expenses. He resigned his seat in the House after pleading guilty last month. Part of Harrell’s guilty plea requires him to testify about other possible criminal activities in the legislature.
Runyon said his client, to his knowledge, has not been approached by prosecutors about a similar deal. The attorney also responded “Absolutely not,” when asked if Ford had been approached by the FBI or other federal law enforcement agencies.