A federal grand jury has indicted former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer on four felony counts of misappropriating state funds and one of solicitation. The indictment, unsealed today in Lexington, charges Farmer with using his state position to obtain thousands of dollars' worth of gifts, hotel rooms, clothing and computers. It also charges him with hiring friends who did little or no work for the state. The indictment says that throughout his tenure as agriculture commissioner from 2004 to 2012, Farmer wrongfully used public funds and state resources to obtain goods and services for himself and his family.
Additionally, on multiple occasions, Farmer allegedly bought hotel rooms at the Kentucky State Fair for extended family using Department of Agriculture money. Another count in the indictment alleges that Farmer solicited and accepted property from an eastern Kentucky motor vehicle dealership, intending to be influenced in the decision in which he attempted to award KDA grant money to the dealership.
Farmer’s attorney, Guthrie True, says he and Farmer were expecting the federal indictment that was unsealed today, which follows several months of investigation from the state Attorney General and the FBI.
True said the U.S. Department of Justice is setting a "dangerous precedent" by getting turning a political matter of managing a government agency into a legal one.
“We don’t believe this is a matter that’s appropriate for a criminal courtroom,” True said. “We think these are matters that should have been decided at the polls by Kentucky voters.”
True maintains that his client is innocent.
“Factually, we don’t take issue with what may have occurred, but the context is going to be critical,” he said. “I think there are going to be other facts in the indictment that we’re going to say that probably those are just outright incorrect, that the government’s misinformed.”
Farmer is also accused of buying a surplus of gifts -- including rifles, watches, and knives – for participants at an agriculture conference in 2008 that he later kept for personal use. Federal prosecutors also say Farmer used state employees to run errands for him and work on his house during official business hours.
State Auditor Adam Edelen says he’s pleased the U.S. Attorney is moving forward with an investigation that his office initiated last year.
“No one’s above the law,” Edelen said. “And I think that’s one thing that, whether it be from the Kentucky Auditor’s office or it be from the Department of Justice, we clearly communicated that there are no special people in Kentucky.”
If convicted on all counts, Farmer faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The U.S. Government is also seeking the forfeiture of $450,000, which represents the approximate total amount of KDA money that Farmer allegedly misused. Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True, said Monday he is reviewing the indictment and saw no surprises in it. A date for Farmer to appear in court has not yet been set.
UPDATE: Farmer's arraignment had initially been scheduled for April 30th in Lexington. Due to a scheduling conflict with his defense attorney, the arraignment has been moved to April 25th.