Prosecutors say Richie Farmer's alleged wrongdoing started before 2008

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comMay 20, 2013 

Former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges that he misused more than $450,000 of state money and property.

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FRANKFORT — Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer misused state resources to further his personal and political agendas before 2008, federal prosecutors alleged in court documents filed late Friday.

Prosecutors said Farmer, agriculture commissioner from 2004 to 2011, was charged with alleged improprieties only from 2008 to 2011 because a five-year statute of limitations prohibits them from pursuing alleged wrongdoing before then.

Still, prosecutors said they plan to introduce evidence about Farmer's conduct before 2008 during trial to bolster their argument that Farmer had an "unwarranted sense of entitlement."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor said prosecutors plan to show that Farmer improperly influenced the hiring, promotion and rewarding of more employees than the three who are mentioned in an April indictment of Farmer.

Taylor said testimony and evidence also would show that Farmer, a former University of Kentucky basketball player and once a rising star in the Republican Party, tried to influence private vendors to provide goods and services to him or the department.

"While these instances do not rise to the level of chargeable extortion or the solicitation of a bribe, they reflect the same unwarranted sense of entitlement that underlies the allegations in the indictment," Taylor wrote in court documents filed Friday.

Federal prosecutors also said they plan to show that Farmer lied on campaign finance reports. In March, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission charged Farmer with 42 ethics violations, including lying on his campaign finance forms. As a result, Farmer was able to collect inappropriate payments from his 2007 re-election campaign for agriculture commissioner, the ethics commission alleged.

Taylor wrote that federal prosecutors also might show that Farmer used his influence to spend $20,000 in Kentucky Proud marketing funds to sponsor the auto-racing team of a close relative. That allegation was included in the ethics case against Farmer, which remains open.

In federal court, Farmer faces four counts of misusing state money and property and one count of soliciting property to influence agriculture business. The allegations include hiring friends — including a girlfriend — for jobs that had high salaries and few responsibilities; taking guns and other gifts intended for a 2008 convention; and taking state property including refrigerators, computers and filing cabinets for his personal use. Farmer also is accused of pressuring an automobile dealership for a bribe in exchange for a state contract.

Farmer has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Federal prosecutors also are asking that Farmer repay $450,000, the amount of taxpayer money he allegedly misappropriated.

Farmer's trial, scheduled to begin in October, is expected to last three weeks.

Taylor wrote that federal prosecutors are debating whether to introduce at trial other alleged misdeeds, but he did not elaborate in court documents filed last week.

Taylor also provided U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove with a list of evidence that federal prosecutors plan to use against Farmer. It includes interviews and other material from the investigations by state Auditor Adam Edelen and the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

Edelen conducted an audit of the department in 2012 at the request of newly elected Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

J. Guthrie True, Farmer's attorney, had asked federal prosecutors for detailed information about the evidence against Farmer, including criminal histories of all government witnesses.

Taylor, in court documents filed Friday, said the federal government had turned over reams of information to Farmer's defense lawyers and would provide additional information even though federal court rules do not require its disclosure.

True has not filed a response to federal prosecutors' assertion that they intend to introduce evidence at trial of other alleged misdeeds not included in the indictment of Farmer.

Beth Musgrave: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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