2 former Richie Farmer employees, including 'Amazing Race' contestant, seek more state pay

jpatton1@herald-leader.comApril 23, 2013 

  • From the federal indictment of Richard Dwight Farmer Jr.

    Charges

    ■ Four counts of converting state funds and property to personal use

    ■ One count of soliciting a bribe in exchange for a state grant

    Penalties

    A maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count

    Value

    Prosecutors want Farmer to repay $450,000, the amount of state property and money he allegedly diverted for personal use.

    Goodies

    Farmer allegedly received the following items, paid for at taxpayers' expense: Rifles, knives, cigar boxes, gift cards, watches, hotel rooms, clothing, computer equipment, refrigerators, filing cabinets, free labor for home improvement projects (basketball court and attic flooring), free labor for personal services (baby-sitting, lawn mowing, transporting his dog).

A former Kentucky Department of Agriculture employee who took time off in 2011 to appear on The Amazing Race television show has pressed the state for compensatory time payments he claims he is owed.

Mark Jackson, who was referenced as "MJ" in a federal indictment unsealed Monday of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, is one of two former employees who asked the department to pay them for comp time after they were dismissed when Agriculture Commissioner James Comer took office in January 2012.

The department has denied the pay, saying in a letter to David Collins, an attorney for Jackson and former agriculture employee Derek Collins, that there is "no basis on which we can certify that the hours claimed were authorized either in advance or ratified after the fact. Moreover, we are still in the process of ascertaining whether this agency can locate any work product for the hours claimed by your clients." According to the department, state law allows compensatory leave and pay only when the employee works hours in excess of normal duty. The department invited David Collins to submit evidence "of actual work performed in support of any hours that they may claim."

David Collins said Tuesday that he has no such documentation.

"I have no further comment on any of it," David Collins said. "I've satisfied my obligation."

The letters were released Tuesday after the Lexington Herald-Leader asked the department for any correspondence it has had recently with Jackson, William Ed Mobley or Stephanie Sandmann, all former employees who were referenced by initials in the indictment.

None of the letters indicate how much comp pay Jackson or Derek Collins are seeking.

On Monday, U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey announced that a federal grand jury had indicted Farmer on four counts of converting state funds and property to personal use and one count of soliciting a bribe in exchange for a state grant. Farmer's arraignment, which had been scheduled for April 30, is now scheduled for Thursday.

Harvey alleged that Farmer created political jobs for friends — including Sandmann, his girlfriend at the time — who received substantial salaries but often did not report for work or did little or no work. Jackson, according to the indictment, appeared to have "ambiguous responsibilities" with minimal oversight.

David Collins would not comment Tuesday on whether his clients had been questioned by federal investigators.

In its April 9 letter, the Agriculture Department informed David Collins that "you should be advised that the Department has recently received and will comply with requests from a prosecutorial authority for time records relating to your clients."

On Monday, Harvey declined to say if anyone other than Farmer might face charges.

Jackson, who said in January 2012 that he had used vacation time to go on The Amazing Race, hung up Tuesday when asked to comment on the comp time request.

According to Agriculture Department records, Jackson was hired in June 2004 and Collins was hired in November 2004; both were political appointees and served as "special assistants" in Farmer's administration.

Farmer personally approved Jackson's taking 2321/2 hours of annual leave time when he left on Nov. 17, 2011, to go on The Amazing Race, records show. He was dismissed by Comer on Jan. 3, 2012.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl

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