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Richie Farmer charged with 42 counts of violating Kentucky ethics laws

Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

By Jack Brammer — jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer was charged Monday with 42 counts of violating the state ethics law, the most ever issued against an individual by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

The ethics panel also charged seven other people, six of whom are former or current employees of the state Department of Agriculture. The commission also charged Farmer’s sister, who works for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

The charges against Farmer included misuse of state employees, misuse of state resources, improper use of grants and improper use of “Kentucky Proud” marketing funds.

“We have not seen misuse of office at this level in the nearly nine years I’ve been with the commission,” commission director John R. Steffen told reporters.

Steffen said the ethics commission is working with several other investigative agencies but he declined to identify any of them.

The ethics commission now will initiate administrative proceedings against the charged individuals to determine whether the alleged violations occurred. If the charges are found to be true, the commission may issue a cease-and-desist order, issue a public reprimand, recommend removal from office and set a fine of up to $5,000 per violation.

Former Kentucky organic-food supervisor faces ethics charges

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A former marketing director for organic foods at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture allegedly used his state-issued email and car to do private consulting while on state time, an ethics panel charged on Monday.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission charged Michael Fitzgerald with nine counts of violating state ethics rules for allegedly working as a private inspector for out-of-state organic food producers while also working as Agriculture Marketing Supervisor over the department’s Organic Program.

Fitzgerald, who left the department in April, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. Robert Bullock, an attorney for Fitzgerald, also could not be reached for comment.

Much of the allegations contained in the charges released Monday concern events in 2010 and 2011 when former Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer was in charge of the agency.

Richie Farmer’s house sold to bank for $175,000

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A Franklin County home owned by former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer was sold Monday for $175,000 to the bank that holds the loan on the house.

The house was purchased at a master commissioner’s sale at the Franklin County Courthouse by First National Bank of Manchester, which will re-sell the house to pay off a more than $317,000 loan that Farmer has not been able to repay. The sale price of $175,000 is less than the $250,000 appraisal. The house is on Cedar Ridge Road off U.S. 127 north of Frankfort.

James Davidson, senior lender for First National Bank of Manchester, was the sole bidder. Davidson said that he could not say how much the house would sell for in today’s real estate market.

First National Bank of Manchester filed the foreclosure suit in May against Farmer and his former wife, Rebecca Farmer, for $317,929.22 plus interest. She filed for divorce in April 2011, and it was finalized in July. Richie Farmer agreed in the divorce settlement to be responsible for making the mortgage payments. Court records indicate that the mortgage has not been paid since January.

Judge declines to lower Richie Farmer’s child-support payments; suspends payments for 2 months

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A judge declined Friday to lower the child-support payments that former Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer must make for his three boys, calling Farmer “voluntarily underemployed.”

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Squire Williams did allow Farmer to suspend his $1,227-a-month child support payments in September and October while Farmer recuperates from hip replacement surgery in August.

Williams decision followed a Sept. 13 hearing where Farmer and his former wife Rebecca Farmer testified.

Farmer, a former University of Kentucky basketball star, had asked the court to lower his child support payments due to his surgery and because the payments were based on his $110,000-a-year job as commissioner of agriculture, a position he left in December. Farmer ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket with Senate President David Williams in November 2011.

Richie Farmer and former wife testify at child-support hearing; no immediate court decision

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A judge did not make an immediate decision Thursday morning in former state Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer’s request to lower child support payment for his three sons after nearly an hour-long hearing.

Franklin Family Court Judge Squire Williams said he would take the issue “under advisement” and enter an order as soon as possible.

Both Farmer, who used a walker after undergoing hip replacement surgery Aug. 30, and his former wife, Rebecca Ann Farmer, testified at the hearing. She filed for divorce in April 2011, and it was finalized in July.

Farmer is asking the court to reduce his $1,227 a month payment to support their children.

Richie Farmer asks court to lower child-support payments

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Former Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer wants his court-ordered child support payment reduced because he is no longer employed by the state and plans to undergo surgery.

A hearing on Farmer’s request is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court.

The court last month signed a final order dissolving the marriage of Farmer and Rebecca Ann Farmer. She filed for divorce in April 2011, saying the marriage was irretrievably broken. They have three children.

The divorce made headlines because Farmer, a former basketball star at the University of Kentucky, was running for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket of gubernatorial candidate David Williams. They were unsuccessful.

In a motion filed Aug. 2, Farmer asked the court to “modify his current child support obligation based upon a material change in circumstances that is substantial and continuing.”

Personnel Board opens investigation of Agriculture Department under Richie Farmer

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Personnel Board voted unanimously Friday to open an investigation into alleged improprieties at the Department of Agriculture under former Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer.

The investigation stems from a lengthy audit conducted by State Auditor Adam Edelen that found a host of irregularities in the department during Farmer’s administration. Current Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer asked for the audit after taking over the office in January.

Farmer, a former University of Kentucky basketball standout and candidate for Lt. Governor in 2011, was commissioner of agriculture from 2004 to 2011.

The audit found that Farmer used state employees to take him hunting and shopping, mow his yard and chauffeur his dog between Frankfort and Louisville during the State Fair because the hotel wouldn’t allow dogs – all while on the clock.

Two state boards begin review of Richie Farmer audit

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Two state boards began considering on Monday a critical audit of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture under former state Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.

The state Personnel Board unanimously voted to direct its staff to review seven findings that dealt with personnel issues in the audit released April 30 by state Auditor Adam Edelen. The board’s staff members are to report back to the board next month or as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the audit was presented Monday to the Executive Branch Ethic Commission, but commission executive director John Steffen would neither confirm nor deny any investigation. He did say that allegations in the audit were “of a serious nature.”

The 151-page audit said “a toxic culture of entitlement” permeated the department under Farmer, a former basketball star at the University of Kentucky and a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor last year. He was agriculture commissioner for the last eight years.

The audit listed 41 findings dealing with misuse of state employees and resources, including pre-selection of candidates for state merit jobs, using state employees to take Farmer hunting and shopping and making a state worker field-dress a doe that Farmer shot illegally while in a state vehicle in Franklin County.

‘Comment’ will discuss Farmer audit, judicial budget cuts

The audit of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer’s administration and cuts in the state judicial budget will be topics on this weekend’s “Comment on Kentucky.”

The public affairs show on the Kentucky Educational Television network will air live Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

Board: Agriculture Department under Richie Farmer violated state hiring laws

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Department of Agriculture did not follow the law when it changed the jobs of two high-level workers under former Commissioner Richie Farmer, the state Personnel Board said Friday.

The board accepted a 57-page investigative report from its staff on the agriculture department’s decision to move two employees in late 2010 from politically appointed non-merit positions to merit jobs that would protect them from dismissal after Farmer left office at the end of 2011.

The report offered three recommendations on handling job changes but did not recommend any criminal charges.

Board executive Mark Sipek said he did not recommend criminal charges because the statute of limitations had expired, a new administration with Commissioner James Comer is in place, and one of the employees involved was fired by Comer earlier this month.