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Prosecutors say Richie Farmer’s alleged wrongdoing started before 2008

Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

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

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

Still, prosecutors said they plan to introduce evidence about Farmer’s conduct prior to 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, promoting and rewarding of more employees than the three who are mentioned in an April indictment of Farmer.

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

Former Kentucky Democratic Party chief mulling possible bid for U.S. Senate

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Bill Garmer said Friday he is considering running for the U.S. Senate next year if Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes declines to enter the race against Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell.

“A lot of people have talked to me about the race,” said Garmer, a Lexington lawyer, in a telephone interview. “But Alison is the center of discussion. In my mind, if she wants the nomination, she has my support. She is one of the bright stars in the Democratic party and she wants to serve Kentucky. I would be the first in line to support her.”

Asked if he would consider running if Grimes decides not to run, Garmer said, “that sounds like a lawyer’s question but that would be fair.”

Grimes said April 23 that she is pondering whether to run for the U.S. Senate next year against McConnell. She said she would “take the time to reflect with my family, my supporters on how I can best continue to serve the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Owsley County Clerk to resign as part of plea deal

Gabbard Sid

FRANKFORT — Longtime Owsley County Clerk Sid Gabbard must resign and repay the state more than $61,000 after entering an Alford plea Friday to charges of tax evasion and abusing the public trust.

Gabbard, who has first elected clerk in 1985, will not serve any jail time as a condition of his plea, state officials said Monday. He entered the plea in Franklin Circuit Court to three counts of abuse of public trust and three counts of willfully filing false tax returns or failing to pay taxes.

In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that there is enough evidence to be found guilty.

Attorney General Jack Conway’s office opened an investigation into Gabbard’s bookkeeping after a 2010 review by state auditors showed repeated problems in the office. The attorney general’s investigation revealed that Gabbard withheld state income tax from employees’ checks but didn’t forward it to the state.
“The citizens of Owsley County elected Sid Gabbard to represent them with honesty and integrity,” Conway said. “Mr. Gabbard betrayed that public trust. He treated public funds as his own at a time when communities across the commonwealth have struggled to fund vital programs and protect services.”

Gabbard must resign after his June 14 sentencing date, but he may step down sooner, said Wade Rasner, Gabbard’s attorney.

Beshears added Social Security to income in 2012

Gov. Steve Beshear

By Jack Brammer — jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane Beshear, picked up an extra source of income last year: Social Security checks.

The Beshears listed retirement income from the Social Security Administration in their latest financial disclosure form filed with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

Gov. Beshear will turn 69 on Sept. 21. Mrs. Beshear turned 66 last December.

The Beshears listed five sources of gross income exceeding $1,000 in 2012 other than his $133,644 annual salary as governor. They included four from the previous year: a Schwab One investment account in Lexington, two Hilliard Lyons investment accounts in Hopkinsville, and income from Hourglass Farm in Lexington.

Lawmakers pass bill to shed light on Kentucky’s special taxing districts

Auditor Adam Edelen spoke with reporters after House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise on House Bill 1, a measure pushed by Edelen to make special taxing districts more transparent. Photo by Jack Brammer | Staff

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — The House and Senate unanimously approved a compromise bill Tuesday pushed by Auditor Adam Edelen that would bring more transparency to Kentucky’s special taxing districts.

Key lawmakers spent much of the day negotiating a deal on House Bill 1, which the chambers approved Tuesday evening and sent to Gov. Steve Beshear for his consideration.

Edelen, a Democrat, said he was thrilled with the compromise, aimed at making a $2.7 billion layer of Kentucky’s government more accountable to taxpayers.

HB 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would require special-purpose government entities — libraries, fire departments, sewer districts and similar agencies — to submit their budgets to a publicly accessible online registry. The state Department for Local Government is expected to unveil the registry to the public in October 2014.

Republicans working on new version of bill to oversee special taxing districts

State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Senate Republicans are preparing a new version of the bill that House Democrats made their top priority of the 2013 legislative session.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he is working on a committee substitute for House Bill 1, which is state Auditor Adam Edelen’s proposal to strengthen oversight of more than 1,200 special taxing districts in the state.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee discussed the original version of the bill Wednesday but did not vote on it.

Thayer said he is concerned the measure doesn’t provide enough oversight of special taxing districts, which can levy taxes even though their leaders are typically not elected. Examples include water districts and library districts.

Mitch McConnell lampoons Democratic efforts to find a challenger for him

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign released its first video ad Tuesday, a parody highlighting the difficulty Democrats are having trying to recruit a viable candidate to run against him.

The video is on the newly-launched website www.obamaskentuckycandidate.com. The Republican campaign says it plans to use the website to track Democrats’ recruiting process.

The nearly three-minute video features clips of Democratic President Barack Obama that have been edited to make it appear he is searching for a candidate to run against McConnell.

Prospects identified include actress Ashley Judd, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, former U.S. ambassador to Sweden Matthew Barzun and Ed Marksberry of Owensboro, who already has said he will run. The video also features clips of Gov. Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway, former Auditor Crit Luallen, Auditor Adam Edelen, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, all of whom have said they’re not interested in challenging McConnell.

“We all know President Obama and his liberal allies have made Senator McConnell their number one target,” Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “We thought we would have a little fun with the problems they’ve had finding someone to carry President Obama’s banner in Kentucky.”

The YouTube video was released to McConnell supporters in an email Tuesday morning and posted on Team Mitch’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Logsdon said the video shows that McConnell doesn’t want to talk about his long voting record in Washington.

“The only thing he can do is make fun of serious people who are trying to help Kentuckians,” Logsdon said. “He can’t point to any accomplishments.”

Logsdon said the Democratic Party “will have a strong challenger for him in 2014.”

Asked who that might be, he said “that process is in the works.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Tuesday that Judd should contact Gov. Steve Beshear about the race.

“When we discussed this with the governor last week, he indicated that he’s not had that contact yet,” Stumbo said.

He said he hoped Judd would also talk to other Democratic leaders in Kentucky.

“I think there are some things that we could suggest to her that may help her as she formulated her campaign,” Stumbo said.

Meanwhile, Nicholasville Tea Party activist David Adams said Louisville businessman Matt Bevin is looking at the Republican primary for U.S. Senate as a Tea Party candidate.

Adams said the Tea Party in the state “may have multiple candidates to run against McConnell.”

Bevin said in a statement that he has made no final decision about the race. He said he has met with “various individuals and groups who have expressed their frustration with their current representation in Washington and have encouraged him to consider entering the race.”

Bill to improve transparency of taxing districts faces questions in Ky. Senate

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — State Auditor Adam Edelen’s proposal to strengthen oversight of more than 1,200 special taxing districts in Kentucky may face a tough time in the Senate.

The House approved House Bill 1 on Feb. 8 on a 96-1 vote, but Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said Friday he has several concerns about the measure.

“Some of us think that the bill doesn’t go far enough in terms of providing the proper oversight when it comes to budgets and taxes and rate increases by these special taxing districts,” said Thayer, R-Georgetown.

He later said one suggestion has been for county fiscal courts to approve the budgets of the special districts, “so that’s something we need to look at, too.”

Under the bill, special taxing districts would have to file their annual financial reports with an online state registry. The public database would allow people to keep tabs on how, where and why special taxing districts spend $2.7 billion each year.

Bill aimed at helping Kentuckians track their ‘ghost government’


By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — More than 1,200 special taxing districts in Kentucky would have to file their annual financial reports with an online state registry under a proposal aimed at helping Kentuckians track the state’s “ghost government.”

The public database would allow people to keep tabs on how, where and why special taxing districts spend $2.7 billion each year, said state Auditor Adam Edelen and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who unveiled House Bill 1 Tuesday at a news conference in the Capitol Annex.

The 102-page bill has attracted wide-ranging and bipartisan support from industry and advocacy groups. It is to be considered Wednesday in the House Local Government Committee.

“This is an important piece of legislation, one that will go a long way in ensuring that Kentucky taxpayers know how their hard earned money is being spent,” Stumbo said.

Audit: Former Breathitt superintendent cut school year by 10 days but still paid teachers

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — The indicted former superintendent of Breathitt County schools cost the district $191,000 in state funding by cutting 10 days from the school year in 2011, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

The inquiry by State Auditor Adam Edelen’s office found that former Superintendent Arch Turner ran the district without proper oversight from the Breathitt County school board.

The district paid teachers $526,350 for the 10 days they did not work last year. In addition, the Kentucky Department of Education eliminated the district’s state funding for school days cancelled by Turner.

The audit also found that Turner gave some school district employees bonuses or additional pay totaling $195,000 without the school board’s approval.