Attorney: Federal grand jury meeting Friday to discuss Richie Farmer

jbrammer@herald-leader.comApril 17, 2013 

Richie Farmer

STAFF FILE PHOTO — Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — An attorney for former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer said Wednesday that a federal grand jury in Lexington has subpoenaed former employees of the department to appear before it on Friday.

Frankfort attorney J. Guthrie True said Farmer, who has been accused of more than 40 ethics violations while in office, has not been called to appear before the grand jury. True declined to identify any of the witnesses subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury.

"I'm not comfortable in doing that," he said.

True also declined to say if he expects Farmer to be indicted but said he would be disappointed if that happens.

He said Farmer acted ethically during his tenure as head of the Department of Agriculture from 2004 to 2011.

A federal grand jury could potentially consider a wide range of issues involving Farmer, including how he spent federal money, which makes up about 20 percent of the department's budget. In 2010, for example, $6.2 million of the department's $31.5 million budget came from the federal government.

Kyle Edelen, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey, said he "can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation."

Current Agriculture Commissioner James R. Comer said last September that the FBI had opened an investigation into Farmer's actions at the department.

In March, the state Executive Branch Ethics Commission charged Farmer with 42 counts of violating state ethics laws, the most ever issued by the panel against an individual. The previous high for ethics charges against one person was 16.

The ethics panel also charged seven other people, six of whom are former or current employees of the agriculture department. The final person charged was Farmer's sister, who works for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

The charges against Farmer, a popular University of Kentucky basketball player in the 1990s, included misuse of state employees, misuse of state resources, improper use of grants and improper use of "Kentucky Proud" marketing funds.

Most of the charges stemmed from an investigation by State Auditor Adam Edelen last year that said a "toxic culture of entitlement" permeated the agriculture department under Farmer. The report found that Farmer used state workers to build a basketball court in his backyard, take him hunting and shopping, mow his yard, and chauffeur his dog between Frankfort and Louisville during the State Fair — all while on the clock.

In late 2011, Farmer allegedly influenced the department to hire someone with whom he had an intimate relationship and placed her under his supervision at a higher salary than the previous holder of the position.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Registry of Election Finance general counsel Emily Dennis said Wednesday that the agency "has cooperated and will continue to cooperate with all investigative authorities or enforcement agencies" looking at allegations involving Farmer and his sister, Rhonda Monroe.

Farmer and Monroe face three counts of breaking ethics laws for allegedly conspiring to submit false records to the registry, where Monroe is the assistant executive director. The expense records allegedly allowed Farmer to collect inappropriate payments from his 2007 re-election campaign.

Monroe was placed on special leave with pay in March for a period not to exceed 60 working days, pending further investigation by the registry. Her annual salary is $77,391.

Farmer unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2011 on a Republican ticket with then-state Senate President David Williams. Farmer now sells cars in his hometown, Manchester, in Clay County.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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