A former Charleston state senator has been granted bond as he challenges eight charges against him related to misuse of campaign funds.
Former State Sen. Robert Ford was given a $50,000 secured personal recognizance bond Wednesday on charges that include misconduct in office, forgery and ethics violations. The longtime Democrat was indicted last month on eight counts related to misusing campaign funds, then altering records. He is pleading not guilty to the charges.
Ford’s attorney Bill Runyon has consistently maintained that Ford was simply a bad bookkeeper who improperly used his personal bank account to handle his campaign expenses. After Wednesday’s hearing, Runyon said he believed his client is being targeted by state officials trying to appear tough on ethics reform.
“In the current climate up here, they’re looking to make an example of everybody when it comes to ethics,” he told reporters. “The legislature is bound and determined that they’re going to have some ethics legislation.”
Ford cited health issues when he resigned from office the day after a Senate Ethics Committee hearing into his finances in May 2013. During that 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.
Last month, the former senator was indicted by a Richland County grand jury on charges of 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.
Runyon said he is asking for six of the eight charges to be dropped because he does not believe Columbia is the proper venue to decide on transactions made at Ford’s bank account in Charleston.
“It’s a technical legal matter, but it does make a difference because it goes to the question of the power of a grand jury to hand down the indictment,” he told reporters. “It’s very important in the ordinary course of events that, if you’re going to be dragged into court and charged with something, that they have proper jurisdiction.”
The state Attorney General’s Office sought the indictments in Richland County because that’s where the SC State Ethics Commission, where Ford would have submitted his campaign financial paperwork each quarter, is located. The agency also relied on the Richland County grand jury to indict former state House Speaker Bobby Harrell in September, albeit under different circumstances.