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‘Comment’ will discuss Richie Farmer plea agreement; ‘KY Tonight’ will focus on Syria

This weekend’s “Comment on Kentucky,” a public affairs show of the Kentucky Educational Television network, will discuss the plea agreement of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer and other topics in the news.

Joining host Ferrell Wellman will be three journalists: Mike Wynn, Frankfort bureau reporter for The Courier-Journal; Ronnie Ellis, Frankfort reporter and columnist for CNHI, Inc.; and Jack Brammer, Frankfort bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The show will air live at 8 p.m. Friday on KET.

On the Monday, Sept. 9, edition of “Kentucky Tonight” at 8 p.m. on KET and at www.ket.org/live, host Bill Goodman and guests will discuss Syria.

Scheduled guests are: John Stempel, international relations professor at the University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce; Lori Hartmann-Mahmud, international studies professor and chair at Centre College; Bruce Hicks, political science professor at the University of the Cumberlands; and Hossein Motamedi, political science and history professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to kytonight@ket.org or use the message form at ket.org/kytonight. Viewers may also submit questions and comments on Twitter @BillKET, #kytonight, or on Kentucky Educational Television’s Facebook page. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 1-800-494-7605.

Kentucky Tonight programs are archived online, made available via podcast, and rebroadcast on KET and KET KY. Archived programs, information about podcasts, and broadcast schedules are available at ket.org/kytonight.

Kentucky Tonight is a weekly KET production, produced by Deidre Clark. Goodman is host and managing editor.

–Jack Brammer

Richie Farmer’s sister resigns state job

By Jack Brammer — jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Rhonda K. Monroe, a sister of former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, has resigned from her $77,391-a-year post as assistant executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Monroe was placed on special leave with pay in March for a period not to exceed 60 working days while the registry cooperated with investigative authorities looking at allegations that she and Farmer violated state ethics laws.

Farmer is facing an Oct. 22 trial in federal court on four counts of misappropriating state funds and one count of soliciting a bribe. He has pleaded not guilty.

Farmer and his sister face three counts of breaking ethics laws for allegedly conspiring to submit false records to the registry about his 2007 re-election campaign for agriculture commissioner. The expense records allegedly allowed Farmer to collect inappropriate payments from his campaign.

Three former agriculture employees settle ethics charges

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Three former state agriculture employees agreed Monday to pay a total of $15,500 in fines to settle ethics charges that stemmed from their employment under former 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, the commission 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 agriculture 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 still pending, said John Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

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.

Larry Cox to retire from Comer’s office; fuel lab closure complete

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — The former longtime state director for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is retiring from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture a little more than a month after being appointed to one of the department’s top jobs, agriculture officials said Thursday.

Larry Cox began working for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer last summer and was promoted to deputy commissioner in April.

As director of Consumer and Environmental Protection, Cox made $80,000 a year and helped oversee the shuttering of a more than $3.1 million fuel testing lab that began under former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer. The department has since contracted with a private laboratory for gas testing and hopes to save taxpayers $600,000 a year by closing the lab.
Comer has asked the Finance and Administration Cabinet to auction off more than $3.1 million in lab equipment.

After Cox completed the shut down of the laboratory, he decided to return to retirement, according to a news release. Agriculture officials said Thursday that Cox had always planned to return to retirement and his Hart County farming operation. His last day will be June 15.

Richie Farmer trial moved to Oct. 22

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A federal judge has rescheduled the trial of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer to Oct. 22.

Attorneys for Farmer had asked to delay the original July 2 trial date to February 2014 because of the complexity of the case and scheduling conflicts. Federal prosecutors argued in court documents that a seven month delay was too long and asked for a fall trial date. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

In his Wednesday order, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove said Farmer’s lawyers will need additional time to prepare for trial but not until February.

Richie Farmer’s lawyers asks for detailed discovery documents

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Lawyers for former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer want federal prosecutors to provide all documents that could be used against Farmer and want all criminal records of any potential government witness.

In documents filed in federal court Monday, lawyer J. Guthrie True asked a judge to compel prosecutors to turn over reams of information to Farmer’s defense team. The items requested include criminal convictions of any potential witness, details of any deal brokered by federal investigators in exchange for testimony or evidence against Farmer, all documents the federal government plans to use in the expected three-week trial, and a summary of all witness testimony. Such discovery requests are common in criminal cases.

Federal prosecutors have already turned over 16 compact discs to Farmer’s lawyers, according to previous court filings.

Farmer has pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the alleged misuse of approximately $450,000 in taxpayer funds. He is accused of giving plum gigs to friends — including a girlfriend — who performed little or no work, taking guns and other gifts intended for a 2008 agriculture convention, and taking state refrigerators, computers and other equipment. Farmer, who was agriculture commissioner from 2004 to 2011, is also a former University of Kentucky basketball stand out. He is currently unemployed.

A federal magistrate judge has set a trial date for July 2, but True has requested a delay until February 2014. Prosecutors have asked for a fall 2013 trial date.

Prosecutors want Farmer trial moved to fall

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Federal prosecutors want the trial of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer moved to this fall and say defense lawyers’ request to move the trial to February 2014 is unreasonable, according to documents filed Thursday.

Lawyers for Farmer filed a motion earlier this week asking U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove to delay the July 2 trial until February 2014 “at the earliest.” J. Guthrie True, a lawyer for Farmer, said he had multiple scheduling conflicts and more than 16 compact discs of evidence against Farmer to review, making a July 2 trial impossible.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor, in a response filed in the federal court case, agreed that the case against Farmer — who faces multiple charges of misusing more than $450,000 in taxpayer funds — is complex but said that delaying the trial to February 2014 was “excessive.” Taylor asked that the judge set a trial date for the fall. Taylor noted in court filings that the case against Farmer is “an important case of public interest, and litigation should proceed at a reasonable pace.”

Richie Farmer’s lawyer asks for February trial date

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — An attorney for former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer wants a federal judge to push back Farmer’s July 2 trial date to February 2014, saying he needs more time to sort through voluminous records.

Farmer was indicted last month for allegedly misusing more than $450,000 in taxpayer funds. He has pleaded not guilty.

Guthrie True, a lawyer for Farmer, said in a motion filed Tuesday that federal prosecutors have given Farmer’s defense team 16 compact discs containing scores of records that could be used against Farmer at trial.

“This discovery includes hours of recorded interviews by the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General and the Kentucky Office of the Auditor of Public Accounts,” the motion says. “It will take considerable time for these interviews to be transcribed, read, and analyzed for information.”

Federal prosecutors have said the trial could last three weeks.

Deputy agriculture commissioner and Farmer’s sister are placed on leave

Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A Kentucky Department of Agriculture employee who was charged with ethics violations Monday after an investigation of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer has been placed on unpaid leave.

Meanwhile, Farmer’s sister, who also was charged with ethics violations, was placed on special leave with pay Tuesday as assistant executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance for a period not to exceed 60 working days, pending further investigation by the agency.

Farmer, who was state agriculture commissioner from 2004 to 2011, was charged Monday with 42 counts of violating state ethics law, the most ever issued against one person by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

The charges against Farmer, a popular University of Kentucky basketball player during the 1990s, included misuse of state employees and state resources, improper use of grants and improper use of Kentucky Proud marketing funds. Farmer’s attorney, J. Guthrie True of Frankfort, said he doesn’t think Farmer has done anything wrong.

Also charged with ethics violations were seven other people — two of whom were on the state payroll.

Holly VonLuehrte, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, said Tuesday that deputy Agriculture Commissioner Bruce D. Harper has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, pending resolution of his case. He was charged with three counts of ethics violations.