Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

April 24, 2013

Farmer building new ‘Unforgettable’ label


Journal-Times

April 24, 2013 —     University of Kentucky basketball fans who fondly remember “The Unforgettables,” the 1991-92 edition of the Wildcats, may need to edit those good memories.

    A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty but that does not change the fact that a federal grand jury on Monday indicted Richie Farmer on five criminal charges.

    The former state agriculture commissioner is accused of misusing property and funds during his eight years in office.

    Farmer, 43, was indicted on four counts of misappropriating property and money and one count of soliciting property to influence business of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

    Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Federal prosecutors said Farmer misused $450,000 in federal funds and they want restitution for the entire amount.

    He is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Lexington on April 30.

    The indictments came on the heels of last month’s finding by the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission that Farmer allegedly violated state ethics laws on 42 occasions during his term of office.

    Seven other persons also were named by the ethics panel, including six current or former employees of the agriculture department. None of the ethics cases, including Farmer’s, have been resolved.

    Accusations of official misconduct surfaced last year when State Auditor Adam Edelen conducted an investigation and said a "toxic culture of entitlement" saturated the agriculture department under Farmer, commissioner from 2003 to 2011.

    Among the charges were that Farmer used state workers to build a basketball court in his backyard, that he housed family members in hotel rooms reserved for state employees and that he had a state worker transport his pet dog between Frankfort and Louisville during the Kentucky State Fair.

    In addition to a well-publicized divorce, the former Clay County standout also was accused of hiring his girlfriend in a high-paying position.

    His political fortunes took a major hit in the 2011 governor’s race when Farmer, a candidate for lieutenant governor, and former Senate President David Williams lost heavily to Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson.

    Prior to that race, Farmer had been touted for governor on the basis of his strong voter support in 2007 when he outpolled the Republican incumbent governor who lost to Beshear.

    UK athletics and those who manage Rupp Arena could eventually be faced with the difficult task of removing Farmer’s banner from among the four that celebrate the players who sparked the resurgence of UK basketball.

    That would be a sad day, indeed.