Lt. Governor Ken Ard resigns

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned Friday morning amid a criminal investigation into whether he spent campaign money on personal items.

Three hours later, Attorney General Alan Wilson announced that the South Carolina State Grand Jury had indicted Ard on seven counts of violating the State Ethics Act.

Ken Ard pleaded guilty to seven counts of violating state ethics laws

will serve

5 years probation

300 hours of public service.

"As a result of a comprehensive investigation that began last July when this office requested this case from the State Ethics Commission, the State Grand Jury, acting pursuant to its public corruption authority, returned, today, an indictment charging James Kenneth Ard with seven counts of violating the State Ethics Act."

"In summary, the State Grand Jury charges Mr. Ard with a scheme, developed as part of his candidacy for Lt. Governor, to create the false appearance of a groundswell of political support through fictitious or bogus campaign contributions. These donations to Mr. Ard's campaign were not a genuine demonstration of financial support. Instead, they represented cash in the amount of $75,000 which was funneled from Mr. Ard to others and ultimately back to his campaign as purported contributions from citizens in the community."

"The State Grand Jury also charges that phantom contributions in the amount of approximately $87,500 were a part of Mr. Ard's scheme. Such contributions were either not made at all by the person listed or were not made in the amount reported."

"The funneled, as well as the phantom contributions, were certified to the State Ethics Commission and reported to the public at large as true and correct. They were not true and correct. Campaign transparency was in reality campaign deceit."

"Mr. Ard is 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. The State Grand Jury charges invoke Sections 8-13-1344(D), 8-13-1308 and 8-13-1438 of the State Ethics Act. All seven counts are punishable pursuant to Section 8-13-1520 and constitute misdemeanor offenses. Upon conviction, each offense carries a penalty of up to $5,000 in fines and/or up to one year in prison."

"An indictment is, of course, a probable cause determination that crimes have occurred. Like any other citizen charged with a crime, Mr. Ard is presumed innocent until proven guilty."

Click for the Grand Jury Indictment

Ard stepped down at 10 a.m. Friday in a letter given to Gov. Nikki Haley and state Senate leaders. He also issued a statement, saying he was sorry and it was his responsibility to make sure his 2010 campaign money was spent correctly.

"There are no excuses, nor is there need to share blame. It is my fault that the events of the past year have taken place," Ard said in the statement.

By state law, the Senate President Pro Tem will becomes lieutenant governor. Friday afternoon, McConnell confirmed he will be SC's next Lt. Gov.

"We look forward to a great partnership with Senator McConnell and to continuing the great progress we've made in the arena of jobs and economic development as well as restructuring our government to better serve the citizens," said South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

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.

Within two weeks, Wilson set up a task force to review the ethics findings and referred the investigation to the state grand jury to determine whether it merited criminal prosecution.

Ard promised full cooperation with the investigations and said he, too, had sought a full review on the day the grand jury news broke. However, the attorney general's office said Ard had only sought a State Law Enforcement Division investigation - something that would have delayed the grand jury's work.

The lieutenant governor is paid $46,545 for the part-time job. He presides over the Senate when it is in session and also is in charge of the state Office on Aging.

Governor Nikki Haley also released a statement Friday morning about Ard's resignation. She said, "Michael and I appreciate the service Ken and Tammy Ard have given to the state of South Carolina. They are good people who have given much of their time and efforts to Florence and the state as a whole. I valued Ken's partnership and wish Ken and his family all of the best going forward. I look forward to continuing the progress South Carolina has made in the last 15 months with our next Lieutenant Governor."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

You can read the State Grand Jury's report

You can read the Venue Order here.