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SC lieutenant governor resigns, indicted over alleged campaign finance schemes

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Shown here is former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard. (AP)

South Carolina's lieutenant governor resigned Friday as he was indicted on a string of ethics charges over an alleged scheme to fake campaign contributions while at the same time using thousands of dollars in donations for personal shopping sprees and trips. 

Ken Ard resigned as the state's No. 2 official just hours before the indictment was handed down. In a statement, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson called the investigation "unprecedented." 

He accused Ard of claiming bogus campaign contributions "to create the false appearance of a groundswell of political support." Some of those contributions were flat-out fake; others represented Ard's own money which he "funneled" to other people and then back to his own campaign, according to Wilson and the indictment. 

In a related scheme for which he was already fined, Ard also used campaign funds after winning the 2010 election for personal items -- including a $3,000 spree at Best Buy. Ard earlier had admitted to those violations before the state ethics commission. He spent campaign money 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. 

Now facing seven criminal counts on all the alleged schemes, Ard would face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine on each count. 

Wilson, in his statement, focused mostly on Ard's alleged effort to fabricate campaign contributions. 

"Campaign transparency was in reality campaign deceit," Wilson said. 

According to the indictment, Ard gave $75,000 to individuals who were then instructed to send that money back to the campaign -- allegedly concealing from voters the "self-funded nature" of that campaign. 

Another $87,500 worth of reported donations were "completely false," according to the court document. 

The lieutenant governor 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. 

Two hours later, Sen. Glenn McConnell announced he would become the state's next lieutenant governor. 

Ard, a Republican, has been under a legal cloud for several months. 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. 

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. 

Haley issued a statement thanking Ard for his service and wishing him and his family the best. 

"I look forward to continuing the progress South Carolina has made in the last 15 months with our next lieutenant governor," Haley said. 

Ard had only served two terms on the Florence County Council before he decided to run for lieutenant governor, beating an Army reservist and a former director of the state Insurance Commission for the Republican nomination in 2010. 

Ard bankrolled much of his campaign with personal loans, and questions about Ard's post-election spending were first raised by the Free Times, a Columbia weekly newspaper. 

Ard defended and justified the spending in a January 2011 interview with the publication. 

"I'll be honest, I'm not really good at dotting i's and crossing t's, but I've got a lot -- a lot -- of money in here and I'm certainly not spending any money on my own personal behalf. ... I've got a vast amount of my personal wealth tied up in this campaign and I'm just trying to recoup as much of that as I can," he said. 

The investigation of Ard marks the second time in two years a top state politician has had ethics charges reviewed for criminal prosecution. Then-Gov. Mark Sanford faced questions in 2009 after the Ethics Commission looked into his use of state planes, campaign cash and first-class travel after his revelation that he had an affair with a woman in Argentina. The GOP-dominated House issued a formal rebuke but did not impeach Sanford. 

Sanford paid $74,000 in ethics fines and $36,498 to cover the investigation and other costs -- the largest ethics fines on record. He also agreed to reimburse his campaign and state agencies for $29,736 in travel and personal expenses. 

Then-Attorney General Henry McMaster, a Republican, reviewed the Sanford case but said he found nothing worth prosecuting. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.