Audit of Richie Farmer's Ag Dept. refers 'extravagant' spending and personnel abuses to law enforcement
04/30/2012 07:44 AM
Former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer used the Agriculture Department as his own personal service center by taking home thousands of dollars in state-purchased items or gifts from vendors and using his employees to build a basketball court and drive his dog, a state audit found.
The investigation released Monday by state Auditor Adam Edelen revealed that Farmer, who left office in January after serving the maximum two terms, oversaw a $200,000 Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture Annual Conference in which numerous potential abuses occurred. It said Farmer approved purchases of shirts and appliances that couldn’t be accounted for and six rifles with “Kentucky Proud” engravings still remain missing.
“The report paints a clear picture of an administration that had no qualms about treating taxpayer resources as its own,” Edelen said in a statement before his 10 a.m. press conference. “The former commissioner had state employees on state time take him hunting and shopping, mow his yard, build a basketball court in his backyard, and even chauffeur his dog.”
The audit extensively quotes Farmer’s ex-wife, Rebecca, who divorced Farmer at the end of last year. But it doesn’t quote Farmer. His successor, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, responded to the audit that many safeguards have been implemented to avoid similar abuses in the future.
Edelen is referring the audit’s findings to a host of law enforcement and ethics agencies: Attorney General Jack Conway, the IRS, Kentucky Department of Revenue, the Executive Brach Ethics Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s office of inspector general and the state Personnel Board.
Some actions have previously been reported, such as the purchase of two plasma televisions, the improper personnel moves and reimbursements for expenses to attend the High School Boys Sweet 16 Basketball tournament in Lexington.
Among the other key points the audit outlined:
- The 2008 conference cost nearly $209,000 of which $96,000 was covered by taxpayers, the audit found. That included $67,730 for room rentals and dinners and $15,264 in entertainment and additional food and supplies. That also included hotel stays for extended family.
- Farmer took home thousands of dollars in gifts and equipment bought by or for the Agriculture Department, including 13 rifles made with “Kentucky Proud” engravings of which just seven were returned; gift baskets of Kentucky Proud food items that the commissioner gave as Christmas presents; wooden carvings; the two mini refrigerators and hundreds of dollars in shirts.
- Using state employees to drive Farmer on personal trips, including Farmer’s dog to and from the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville.
- Potential conflicts of interest, including gifts from vendors Farmer failed to report to the Executive Brach Ethics Commission as required. Also, seven of the vendors who helped cover the cost of the 2008 conference are regulated by the agency.
- Personnel abuses, including Farmer directing staff to construct a basketball court and wall at his home and moving a gun safe from his garage to his basement — all on state time. Farmer also allowed an employee to be paid and receive mileage worth $70,457 for work that wasn’t done. Another inspector supervisor used his state vehicle on days he wasn’t working.
- The department’s operations under Farmer were marked by lax record keeping and missed goals. For instance, a $1.65 million file and pesticide testing laboratory failed to test one-fifth of the 20,000 samples it was supposed to. And the agency failed to track the fines it has imposed.
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