Monday, April 22, 2013
Former Ky. agriculture commissioner indicted
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Former Kentucky agriculture commissioner and University of Kentucky basketball star Richie Farmer was accused of misusing state funds and abusing his position in a federal indictment unsealed Monday.
The indictment charges him with using his state position from 2004 to 2011 to obtain thousands of dollars' worth of gifts, hotel rooms, clothing and computers. It also alleges he hired friends who did little or no work for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
"Throughout his tenure, Farmer wrongfully used public funds and KDA resources to obtain goods and services for himself and his family," the 13-page indictment said.
Farmer, 43, plans to plead not guilty when he is arraigned April 30, attorney J. Guthrie True said. He is charged with four federal felony counts of misappropriating state funds and one count of soliciting goods. The counts carry a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
True said he was disappointed but not surprised by the charges, which they knew was coming for several weeks. He called the federal indictment "a dangerous precedent" saying the issues raised in it are state matters.
"The manner in which the elected commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture conducts his business is a political, not a legal, issue," he said.
U.S. attorney Kerry Harvey declined to say if others may be indicted in the case.
Farmer, a homegrown athlete from impoverished Clay County, remains one of the biggest names for fans of one of the country's most successful college basketball programs. He was a shooting guard for the University of Kentucky's Wildcats basketball team from 1988 to 1992, a team known as "The Unforgettables."
His jersey hangs in the rafters of Rupp Arena alongside those of Dan Issel, Pat Riley, Kenny Walker and Sam Bowie.
Farmer had been a rising star within the Kentucky GOP until a 2011 unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Republican state Senate President David Williams. They lost overwhelmingly to incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
In March, Farmer was charged with 42 Kentucky ethics violations, a state record.
The indictment, which was handed up Friday, said Farmer used an account that included state funds to purchase an excessive amount of gifts for visiting state agriculture commissioners for a 2008 national conference. The indictment alleges he kept the gifts that were left over, including customized Remington rifles, embossed knives, watches and personalized cigar boxes.
The grand jury also accused Farmer of using agriculture department funds to benefit his family and friends, including naming at least three people as "special assistants" who did little or no work for the department. One was his girlfriend.
Farmer directed the "special assistants" to perform personal tasks for him on work hours, including building a basketball court at his home, installing flooring in his attic and organizing his personal effects, according to the indictment.
Farmer is also accused of having agency employees drive him on personal errands, babysit his children, mow his lawn and transport his dog.