South Carolina's Republican Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard resigned on Friday just before being indicted on seven counts of misusing campaign money.

An hour after the indictment was announced, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years of probation and a $5000 fine. He could have faced as much as seven years in prison and $35,000 in fines.

Ard was elected in November 2010 with 55% of the vote, but by the following February the state ethics commission had begun investigating his campaign finances and he was charged with 106 civil violations. Ard admitted to these and paid a fine, but a grand jury soon began the criminal investigation that led to the current indictment.

According to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, Ard had tried "to create the false appearance of a groundswell of political support through fictitious or bogus campaign contributions."

One way Ard did this was by giving $75,000 to other individuals who then returned it to his campaign as "contributions." Another $87,500 in contributions were "either not made at all by the person listed or were not made in the amount reported."

The civil charges filed last year also included one incident where Ard used campaign funds to take his wife and three children to Washington, DC, telling investigators that he had flown there to discuss economic developmetn issues with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC).

The Boston Herald notes that "Ard’s was the latest in a series of scandals that have rocked high-profile lawmakers in the South Carolina GOP. Among other incidents, a state treasurer resigned in 2007 after a cocaine possession indictment, and in 2009, then-Gov. Mark Sanford confessed to an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman after disappearing from office to visit her."