Three former Kentucky agriculture employees settle ethics charges

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comMay 20, 2013 

Former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, left, stood silent as his attorney J. Guthrie True gave a statement Thursday outside the federal courthouse in Lexington. Farmer pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he misused more than $450,000 in state money and property during his eight years as Kentucky's top agriculture official. Photo by Pablo Alcalá | Staff

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FRANKFORT — Three former state agriculture employees agreed Monday to pay a total of $16,000 in fines to settle ethics charges that stemmed from their employment under then-Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.

In March, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission issued 42 ethics charges against Farmer, who was commissioner from 2004 to 2011. In addition, it charged six other former agriculture department employees and Farmer's sister, Rhonda Monroe, an assistant director for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

On Monday, the commission announced settlements with three of the former ag employees: Bruce Harper, George "Doug" Begley and Chris Parsons.

The ethics charges against Farmer, Monroe and former agriculture employees William E. Mobley, Steven Mobley and Stephanie L. Sandmann are pending, said John Steffen, executive director of the ethics commission.

Farmer also faces federal criminal charges for allegedly misusing more than $450,000 in taxpayer funds during his tenure as the state's top agriculture official. One of the charges against Farmer alleges he gave plum gigs to friends who had to perform little or no work. William E. Mobley and Stephanie Sandmann, Farmer's girlfriend, are mentioned in the federal indictment by their initials.

Harper, a deputy commissioner under Farmer, was accused by the ethics commission of soliciting funds for a 2008 agriculture convention from organizations that the Department of Agriculture regulated, and of interfering with state business by directing agriculture employees to probate a $250 fine for a farmer who had violated the state's dead-animal disposal laws. Harper also was accused of directing an employee to not deposit a $3,000 penalty check from a grain dealer who was a political contributor.

In his settlement, Harper acknowledged he violated state ethics rules and agreed to pay a $4,500 fine. He no longer works for the department.

Begley, who inspected amusement rides for the state, also acknowledged he broke ethics rules and agreed to pay a $6,500 fine. According to the ethics panel, Begley claimed time that he never worked, misused his state vehicle and performed work for his private logging business while on state time.

Parsons, who was employed in the Office of the Kentucky State Veterinarian, agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and admitted he lied about inspecting stockyards and grocery store scales, falsified time sheets and used his state-issued gas card to buy gas for his personal use.

Harper has paid his fine. Begley and Parsons have until June 28 to pay their fines.

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

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