- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A former South Carolina senator who resigned amid an ethics investigation, pleaded guilty to misconduct in office and now faces a probation violation charge is seeking his old Senate seat.

Robert Ford of Charleston filed this week to run for the Senate seat he held for 20 years before resigning in 2013 midway into Senate Ethics hearings on charges he used donations for personal expenses and then tried to cover it up. His colleagues sent their findings to the attorney general’s office.

The 67-year-old Democrat was sentenced last May to five years of probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of misconduct in office, forgery and ethics law violations. He was also ordered to pay $70,000 in restitution.

According to the state’s probation agency, Ford must appear in court April 11 for missing his monthly payments.

As of the Jan. 13 citation, Ford owed nearly $9,000 in missed payments. His total unpaid balance, including interest and fees, had risen to more than $80,000. A judge could sentence him to jail time.

Ford’s attorney, William Runyon, told The Associated Press on Friday he will ask the judge to reduce Ford’s payments.

“He’s complied with all conditions except keeping up with equal-installment payments,” said Runyon, who’s been Ford’s lawyer for 39 years. “His employment was stymied after he resigned from the Senate.”

A former car salesman, Ford’s main job was being a senator. He’s also previously done campaign consulting work.

Runyon said Ford completed his 350 hours of community service at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Charleston, where he continues to volunteer.

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who won the 2013 special election to replace Ford, declined to discuss his primary challenger.

“I trust the voters to make smart decisions. I can’t comment on what he’s thinking or his record,” Kimpson, an attorney, said Friday. “I’m not going to focus on him.”

The chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party is encouraging voters to back Kimpson. Brady Quirk-Garvan criticized Ford for publicly backing Kimpson’s Republican opponent in the special election.

“Sen. Kimpson has done a great job serving this district,” Quirk-Garvan said. “This seat needs a strong Democrat, and I think we have that.”

Ford could not be reached for comment Friday, and Runyon declined to discuss his client’s campaign.

But in a mass email received by the AP early Friday, Ford said he’s supported Democratic Party issues, such as gay rights, “100 percent of the time” for four decades. He also criticized party officers as the “liberal elitist.”

Records show Ford also has not paid any of the $30,000 fine that the Senate Ethics Committee imposed in May 2014, following a post-resignation review of Ford’s campaign account. Bank documents show he emptied his account and used the nearly $15,000 to pay for credit card bills, rent and utility bills, tailoring, car payments, lawn services and personal loan payments, according to an agreement of facts that Runyon signed.

Runyon said then Ford didn’t have the money. Runyon said Friday that Ford should not be required to pay the Senate Ethics fines in addition to the court fines.

It could be an issue if Ford wins his seat back. The Senate Ethics Committee could tell Ford he must pay or again face the possibility of expulsion.

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