For Sanford, a life unraveled by an affair

S.C. governor describes tryst as ‘political funeral’

Governor Mark Sanford's affair was revealed late last month. Governor Mark Sanford's affair was revealed late last month.
By Tamara Lush
Associated Press / July 1, 2009
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - When Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina flew to Argentina to visit his lover on June 18, he knew it was the end of his carefully scripted life.

It was the end of his rock-star-status as top fund-raiser in the Republican Party; the end of inside-the-beltway rumors that he would be a legitimate candidate for the 2012 GOP nomination; and, most likely, the end of his 20-year marriage.

“I was frightened and I was scared, and I knew the consequences,’’ he said. “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair. This was a love story. A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.’’

That love story would lead to Sanford’s personal unraveling. During two days of exclusive interviews in his State House office with the Associated Press, Sanford revealed painfully intimate details about his life, saying he needed to lay out the facts.

Often wiping tears from his eyes, Sanford dropped bombshell after bombshell: He isn’t in love with his wife; he had “crossed the lines’’ with other women; and, perhaps the biggest of all, his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, is his “soul mate.’’

“I don’t have much to lose now,’’ said Sanford, sighing and describing the scandal as “his political funeral.’’

At home, the father of four boys avoided going to bars and clubs, rigidly “avoiding even the appearance of evil.’’ But during trips with male friends, mainly overseas adventures to exotic locales, he would have casual encounters with women.

“I’m quite certain that there were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines I shouldn’t have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line,’’ he said. “I didn’t cross the sex line.’’

In January 2001, Sanford traveled to an exclusive seaside resort in Uruguay. He described meeting Chapur in a club and instantly connecting.

Sanford said there was no physical contact between them during that trip. But at the end of their conversation, they exchanged e-mail addresses. Sanford returned home and began his successful campaign for governor.

Chapur was never far from his mind, or inbox. Sanford insists the correspondence was innocent, but he admits that he didn’t tell his wife about his pen pal.

The two e-mailed “sporadically’’ over the years, but in 2008, on an official visit to Brazil and Argentina, the relationship became physical.

Sanford and Chapur met again twice, but just before Christmas, a frantic Chapur called Sanford: Someone had hacked into her e-mail account and discovered their missives. And about a month later, Jenny Sanford, his wife of 20 years, discovered a letter to Chapur.

The troubled couple began Christian couples counseling. One friend suggested that Sanford break it off quickly.

But even after attempting to end the affair, Sanford was still secretly in contact with Chapur.

“I don’t want to blow up my time in politics,’’ he said. “I don’t want to blow up my future earning power. I don’t want to blow up the kids’ lives. I don’t want to blow up 20 years that we’ve invested. But if I’m completely honest, there are still feelings in the way.’’