By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Richie Farmer, once a basketball hero and rising political star, has agreed to a plea deal on federal and state charges of misappropriating public funds which likely will send him to prison for up to two years.
Farmer parlayed his role as a beloved University of Kentucky basketball player into election as Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture and a place on the 2011 Republican gubernatorial ticket with David Williams.
During that unsuccessful 2011 campaign, however, things began to unravel for Farmer. His wife sued for divorce, and just a few months after the campaign, his successor as agriculture commissioner, Republican James Comer, asked for an audit of the department during Farmer’s administration.
Democratic Auditor Adam Edelen’s scathing report indicated Farmer hired friends and girlfriends who performed little real work; used department funds and staff for personal use; and improperly used grant funds.
Farmer, 44, was subsequently indicted by federal prosecutors on four counts of misappropriating funds and one of soliciting property in exchange for government grants. Each count carried a possible sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine. Federal prosecutors also were seeking $450,000 in restitution. A federal trial date of Oct. 22 had been set.
State prosecutors also planned to charge Farmer with campaign finance violations and his sister, Rhonda Monroe, for assisting him. Farmer also was facing 42 charges by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
But Thursday, Farmer’s attorney, Guthrie True, issued a press release saying he had filed a motion for a change of plea and indicating he has reached an agreement with prosecutors and the ethics commission to resolve all the charges in exchange for a guilty plea.
“If approved by the respective courts and the Ethics Commission, the agreements provide that Richie will plead guilty to two counts of the indictment presently in the United States District Court,” True said in his release.
True went on to say Farmer will plead guilty to a one-count charge in Franklin Circuit Court of a single violation of campaign finance laws.
“If these agreements are accepted and approved, Richie will receive a sentence in federal court in the range of 21 to 27 months, and pay restitution and an ethics fine in the combined amount of $120,500,” True sajd. Farmer “will also receive a concurrent one-year sentence on the charge in state court.”
True said Farmer “deeply regrets the pain which has been inflicted on his family, as well as any embarrassment he has caused the good people of Kentucky.”
U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying prosecutors were confident they could prove Farmer’s guilt.
“While various factors may influence any defendant’s decision to plead guilty, there is a common threat that motivates every guilty plea: defendants plead guilty because they are guilty, and they understand that the prosecution is prepared to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Harvey said.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said his office had filed guilty pleas in Franklin Circuit Court on the campaign finance charges, pleas which were agreed to by Farmer and Monroe. Conway said Farmer would receive a one-year sentence to be served concurrently with his federal sentence.
Monroe agreed to a one-year sentence which will be probated for two years, Conway said.
According to Monroe’s attorney, Jim Deckard, Monroe’s plea in state court also allows her to avoid federal charges.
True said federal prosecutors “have made clear their intention to bring a second federal indictment” against Farmer which would force his client to defend two multi-count indictments in federal court, a multi-count indictment in state court and ethics charges at the same time.
“This reality has proven to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially overwhelming for Richie and the entire Farmer family,” True said. “Even more, Riche cannot, in good conscience, put his three boys – who have already had to suffer through their parents’ divorce – through the stress and trauma which would accompany such an ordeal.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.