Former Sen. Ford sentenced to probation, restitution of $69K

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS/WCSC) - The book is closed in the corruption trial of former state Sen. Robert Ford.

The Charleston Democrat will face five years of probation and 350 hours of community service.

Despite pleading guilty to four public corruption counts, Ford still believes he's a victim in the case. He said today he never actually learned how to file his campaign finance reports, instead relying on the ethics commission to do them for him for over 19 years. He says when he had to start doing them himself a few years back, it put him in what he called a bad spot.

There was an audible difference between the choked-up Ford addressing Richland County Judge Robert Hood, telling the judge he appreciated what he was doing, and the friendly Ford who, after receiving a five-year probation sentence, claims he's the victim of politics.

"Sorry for what I did? Serving the public? No! I served the public!" Ford said.

Ford pleaded guilty to four public corruption counts stemming from what prosecutors say were more than $69,000 worth of misuse of campaign funds, including expenses for adult entertainment, male enhancement pills, gym memberships, and clothes.

But Ford defended his campaign spending.

"When he said personal use on clothes, that's for veterans! I have three veterans programs a year," Ford said. "The whole Senate knows that, the House knows that. They get my emails and they get my reports. What they did to me in the last two years was totally inhumane and not necessary."

Ford isn't the first South Carolina lawmaker in recent history to plead guilty to misconduct in office. Former House Speaker Bobby Harrell pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds last fall, ending a 20-year legacy as a lawmaker. Lt. Gov. Ken Ard also faced misconduct in office charges. Those two lawmakers received probation.

And since they didn't go to prison, Judge Robert Hood said neither would Ford.

"People are fed out of the same spoon," Hood said. "We need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities."

Along with the five years of probation, Ford must also complete 350 hours of community service, what he calls the best part of his sentence because that's something he already loves to do.

Prosecutors are hoping Thursday's case along with the two others, will help close the door on potential misconduct cases in the future.

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