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Ford Challenged To Pay $70K In Fines After Sentencing
6/3/2015 3:56:34 PM

Robert Ford
By Barney Blakeney

Some of those who have supported former Charleston Sen. Robert Ford over the course of his nearly 40 years in public office may be breathing sighs of relief, but the political firebrand whose mantra has been one of agitation still must pay about $70,000 in fines levied against him on charges of state ethics violations.
Ford two weeks ago was sentenced to serve five years probation, 350 hours of public service and pay the fines. In January Ford pled guilty to four charges against him alleging he violated rules regarding the spending of campaign funds.
Ford was indicted in 2013 on eight charges that include forgery and misconduct in office in addition to six ethics violations. He faced the same charges from the Senate Ethics committee in 2012 which resulted in his resignation that May after serving 20 years in the S.C. General Assembly.
Ford has maintained he is innocent of the charges. He said this week he only pled guilty of the charges because he could not afford to defend himself against them in a court battle. That battle could cost over $100,000, said Ford who added he still owes his attorney, William Runyon, for services already rendered.
Runyon also has maintained Ford is innocent of the charges. He described the charges against his client as a political witch hunt and maintained that Ford’s sloppy accounting which Ford performs himself, led to the charges.
The charges against Ford drew criticism of dual standards about how ethics rules are applied when it comes to Black pubic officials and white public officials. Ford’s indictment followed those of several other public officials, most notably Gov. Nikki Haley and Speaker of the House Charleston Rep. Bobby Harrell. Late last year Harrell also resigned his Mount Pleasant seat after being indicted and pleading guilty.
The charges against Ford involve only about $45,000 while charges against other legislators including Haley and Harrell, involved hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since taking office Haley has bested complainants who challenged her receiving payment as a consultant for a Columbia hospital while serving as a member of the S.C. House. And in January, the ethics commission dropped some 37 charges against S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Ford has maintained that his ethics troubles stem from political rivalry. Runyon also alluded that Ford’s capitulation continues a decline in Lowcountry influence in the legislature. He pointed to over $500 million legislators will appropriate for construction to complete I-526 as one example of the money at stake.

Ford said he had a good attorney and a fair judge in Fifth Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Hood who handed down Ford’s sentence. The allegations should never have gone to court, he said. And while the community has taken a lukewarm response to his legal position, he’s got the challenging task of paying the fines levied against him.

“I don’t have that kind of money and it seems like  nobody’s willing to help me,” said Ford who admitted the allegations casts a shadow over his integrity and reputation. “That’s the part I don’t understand,” he said.

In 2013 members of the South Carolina General Assembly approved a resolution to recognize Ford’s contributions to his community and state. Thirty-two senators signed on as sponsors of the resolution that was introduced in the Senate Feb. 20. It passed in both the senate and house of representative.

Ford, who hails from New Orleans, La., came to Charleston in 1969 to participate in the Hospital Workers Strike of 1969. He remained in Charleston after the strike was resolved and was elected to Charleston City Council in 1974 joining Mayor Joseph Riley and five other African Americans in a historical election.

Ford served on Charleston City Council until he was elected to the senate in 1993. His tenure on city council was marked by such accomplishments as leading council in establishing Martin L. King Jr.’s birthday as a municipal holiday.

He also fought annexation that excluded traditional Black communities. Because of those efforts, Ford was indicted and tried for forgery on allegations he signed property owners names on annexation petitions that led to the annexing of the Ashleyville and Maryville communities West Ashley. He faced a sentence of 49 years in prison if convicted. Prosecutors failed to win the case that ended in mistrial.

Also during his tenure as a city councilman, Ford took his  aggressive advocacy to cities around the state helping other Black communities to organize politically.

Ford says he must pay at least $1,800 per month toward his fines or be subject to incarceration. “I’m hoping I can raise the money from some of those people I’ve helped over the years,” he said.

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