By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Former college basketball star-turned-politician Richie Farmer has been formally indicted by a federal grand jury, charged with four counts of mishandling government property and money and one count of soliciting property in exchange for a government grant.
Farmer, who served two terms as the previous Kentucky agriculture commissioner, entered a not-guilty plea last Thursday in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Wier during an arraignment hearing. He was informed of his rights and released without bond.
According to the indictment filed April 19 in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Farmer repeatedly abused his authority for his own benefit. He is accused of misusing $450,000 in state money.
“Throughout his tenure, Farmer wrongfully used public funds and KDA (Kentuc-ky Department of Agriculture) resources to obtain goods and services for himself and his family,” the indictment noted.
The former Kentucky Mr. Basketball allegedly handed out jobs to friends and had state employees perform personal jobs, such as building a basketball court on his property and even taking his dog home from the Kentucky State Fair.
One of the charges reported by The Associated Press alleged he spent more than $30,000 to take visiting agriculture commissioners to Millionaire’s Row at Churchill Downs to gamble on races. Farmer also allegedly kept gifts purchased by his office for ag commissioners from other states.
Court papers noted the counts against Farmer, listing various alleged offenses including: theft and misusing funds on such things as “rifles, rifle cases, knives, cigar boxes, gift cards and watches purchased in excess of the goods necessary for the commissioners, guests and KDA employees scheduled to attend and work at the 2008 SASDA (Southern Assoc. of State Departments of Agriculture) conference; hotel rooms occupied by Farmer’s extended family during the 2008 SASDA conference; (and) clothing for the personal use of Farmer and his family.”
The indictment also alleged Farmer paid salaries to “Special Assistants” who did little or no work.
J. Guthrie True, Farmer’s attorney, has repeatedly said his client is innocent of the charges and once the trial starts, the rest of the story will come out.
If found guilty, Farmer could face up to 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. His trial is set to start July 2, but True said it would be impossible to be ready by then and will likely ask to have the date pushed back. Farmer is not allowed to travel out of the country during this time, although True requested a break from that restriction to allow his client to go on a planned vacation to Cancun. That request was denied.
He has also been ordered to actively look for a job as one of the conditions of his release. Since leaving office, except for a brief period at a car dealership in Clay County, Farmer has been unemployed. His attorney said finding a job may be impossible for Farmer to do with all the attention the case is receiving.
Before his indictment, the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission leveled 42 ethics charges against Farmer related to his days as commissioner. That is a record and it could cost him as much as a $5,000 fine per charge, according to a report issue by the commission.
Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen was asked by current Ag Commissioner James Comer to conduct an audit of the department shortly after he took office in 2012. “The report paints a clear picture of an administration that had no qualms about treating taxpayer resources as its own,” Edelen said in a statement, referring to the Farmer administration.