Ethics Commission levels 42 charges against Richie Farmer
03/18/2013 12:34 PM
FRANKFORT — The Executive Branch Ethics Commission decided Monday to charge former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer on 42 instances of breaching the public’s trust stemming from his personnel actions and use of state resources.
Those charges were the most ever handed out at one time during the more than two decades the Executive Branch Ethics Commission has existed.
The counts, also called initiating orders, stem from findings by State Auditor Adam Edelen in a scathing review last year.
The commission announced the charges after a more than three hour meeting mostly behind closed doors in executive session.
John Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said Monday that the charges are just the start of the process — akin to a grand jury indictment. Farmer can contest the charges. He was not present at Monday’s meeting.
Steffen said he has “not seen misuse of office at this level” during his time at the commission.
Each of the 42 charges can result in a fine of up to $5,000, meaning Farmer could be on the hook for as much as $210,000.
Farmer’s lawyer J. Guthrie True responded to the charges on Monday afternoon in a telephone call with Pure Politics.
“I don’t think there is any merit to the allegations,” True said “The allegations are greatly blow out of proportion.”
The lawyer thought some of the charges could benefit from additional context, but did not plan on admitting any ethical wrong doing on Farmer’s part. True said that he would file a response to the charges, but anticipated it would take several months to go before the commission.
The commission also announced charges against another six former Agriculture Department officials, along with Farmer’s sister, Ronda Monroe, has worked for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Monroe’s charge stems from the handling of Farmer’s re-election campaign finance reports in 2007.
The list of others include:
- Bruce Harper — former director of outreach and development, three counts
- Chris Parsons — former agriculture inspector, five counts
- George “Doug” Begley — former agriculture inspector, five counts
- William Mobley — former special assistant in the division of value added animal and aquaculture production, 2 counts
- Steven Mobley — former director of agricluture, marketing and agrobusiness recruitment, 3 counts
- Stephanie Sandmann — former staff assistant, 1 count
- Ronda Monroe — assistant executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, three counts
Monroe attempted to use her knowledge of campaign finance laws to “fraudulently claim campaign-related expenses in order for him to obtain reimbursement from his campaign account in order for him to obtain personal financial gain,” according to the ethics commission charge.
Steffen said the commission could issue more charges against Ag Department officials who failed to speak up about ongoing violations during Farmer’s tenure.
In addition to the charges leveled against the group, the Ethics Commission also issued an advisory opinion which states that the Code of Ethics obligates public servants to refuse to comply with orders which are against the code of ethics.
Notable amongst the 42 indictments against Farmer are:
- Creation of four special assistant positions, with no specific job duties, and placed his friends in these positions. Farmer used some of these positions to run errands for him during work hours.
- Farmer used Ag Dept. employees to perform personal work for him at his personal residence, including building a basketball court in his backyard, moving furniture to and from his personal residence, doing landscape and yard work, cleaning his garage, and laying tile and building shelves.
- Farmer used his position to influence employees within the department to spend state funds comingled with solicited funds from entities for the 2008 SASDA conference to purchase excessive lavish gifts for the visiting Agriculture Commissioners and himself.
- Farmer used his position on multiple occasions to direct department employees to use state funds to purchase in excess of 50 shirts for his own personal benefit from a department vendor. These shirts ranged in price from $30 to $78 each.
- Farmer used his position to influence his department to use $20,000 in Kentucky Proud funds to sponsor a racing team owned by a member of his family.
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