LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer has been indicted on charges of misusing and misappropriating money and property belonging to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture during his tenure.
The indictment, which was filed on Friday and unsealed on Monday, charges Farmer, 43, with four counts of misappropriating property and funds of the KDA. Each of the four counts covers alleged misconduct occurring in separate calendar years between 2008 and 2011.
Farmer is also charged with one count of soliciting property of value in exchange for intending to be influenced in KDA matters.
According to the indictment, Farmer abused his authority throughout his tenure, using KDA funds to obtain guns, clothing, hotel rooms, computer equipment and home appliances for himself, family members and friends.
The indictment states that in 2008, Farmer bought a surplus of gifts including rifles, watches, case knives and personalized cigar boxes for participants and workers at the Southern Association of State Departments and Agricultural Conference, and then kept the excess gifts for his personal use.
Farmer's attorney J. Guthrie True said his client did nothing wrong. "One of the things we're going to be showing is that there is considerable doubt as to how these items that were acquired for the SASDA convention you're talking about, should have been handled. We'll be addressing that and presenting that evidence at the appropriate time which is going to be the trial not now."
The indictment also alleges that Farmer misused his position to create several paid "Special Assistant" positions for his friends. The indictment says those friends operated with little oversight and performed minimal official work and that some of them received state government salaries in exchange for performing home improvement projects and other personal services for Farmer.
Farmer's spending was questioned after an audit of his office was released in August 2012. Then, and now, True said the allegations against Farmer are political pursued by people who wanted Farmer out of office. "We don't believe this is a matter that is appropriate for a criminal court room," said True. "We think these are matters that should have been decided at the polls by Kentucky voters."
State Auditor Adam Edelen whose office conducted the audit into Farmer's office said the allegations are clear abuses, despite True's statements. "I just don't think that holds a lot of water. Mr. True is one of the finest criminal defense attorneys in Kentucky and I sense that he's doing his job, but I had to do mine, which is to make sure no elected official, regardless of their position, their power or their popularity is led to believe they are above the law," Edelen responded to True's comments that Farmer did nothing illegal.
Kerry Harvey, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said Farmer's misuse of funds adds up to $450,000 which should be paid back to the U.S. Government if Farmer is convicted.
Farmer was elected to two terms as Commissioner of Agriculture and was responsible for the supervision and administration of the KDA from January 2004 until January 2012.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Farmer could be arraigned as early as April 30.
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