A Kentucky basketball icon whose jersey hangs from the rafters of Rupp Arena was accused in a federal indictment this week of misappropriating government funds during his tenure as head of the state Department of Agriculture.
Richie Farmer, the sweetshooting guard from Clay County, could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of four counts of misappropriating government property and money and one count of soliciting property in exchange for a government grant.
Prosecutors said they also will seek $450,000 — the amount they alleged was misappropriated — from the now-unemployed Farmer, who served from 2004 through 2011 in the elected position of state agriculture commissioner.
U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey outlined a litany of alleged misdeeds at a press conference Monday morning in Lexington, not far from the University of Kentucky, where two decades ago Farmer was part of one of the nation’s most storied basketball programs.
Harvey alleged that Farmer used government employees to work on his Frankfort home, even build a basketball court in his backyard, and that he hired friends, including his girlfriend, as special assistants who did little or no work for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
“He also allegedly directed the Department of Agriculture employees to drive him on personal errands, babysit his children, mow his lawn and transport his dog, among other things,” Harvey said. “Mr. Farmer allegedly misappropriated Kentucky Department of Agriculture property for his own use, including computer equipment, two refrigerators, various articles of clothing and two filing cabinets.”
The indictment said Farmer used an account that mingled private and government funds to purchase gifts, including customized Remington rifles and embossed Case knives, for visiting state agriculture commissioners during a 2008 national conference. The indictment alleges Farmer kept some of the gifts for himself.
On the solicitation count, the grand jury alleged Farmer in 2009 accepted an unnamed “thing of value” from a motor vehicle dealership in Whitley County in exchange for a state grant.
Instead of being taken into custody, Farmer will voluntarily appear in court to answer the charges.
Farmer’s arraignment is tentatively set for April 30 at the federal courthouse in Lexington. His defense attorney, Guthrie True of Frankfort, said Farmer will enter a not guilty plea. True said he may ask for the arraignment date to be reset because of a scheduling conflict.
True said the indictment was disappointing but not surprising because he had known for weeks that it was coming.
“We don’t believe that these issues should be in the criminal arena at all,” True told reporters on Monday after the indictment was released.
True said Farmer’s political foes may be responsible for the charges.
“Should he have elected to make himself available for public service, they should have elected to stand in competition with him, not to try to eliminate him from politics in Kentucky through this type of maneuver,” True said.
Harvey said the Farmer case was treated no differently than any other.
“I don’t know that there’s anything markedly different about his case than other cases that we’ve prosecuted in the past, other than perhaps the notoriety of the defendant,” he said.
Though he played more than 20 years ago, the homegrown athlete from eastern Kentucky remains a household name in the state. After all, he and his teammates were dubbed the “Unforgettables.”
True said he viewed the federal indictment as “a dangerous precedent,” saying the issues raised in it are state matters.
“The manner in which the elected commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture conducts his business is a political, not a legal, issue,” he said.
Harvey declined to say if others may be indicted in the case.
“The investigation continues, and I wouldn’t speculate about the course that that might take,” Harvey said.
State Auditor Adam Edelen, whose review of the Department of Agriculture led to the criminal investigation, said the case shows that “no public official, regardless of position, power or popularity, is above the law.”