Local/Regional News
12:40 pm
Sun March 11, 2012

Audit Finds $60,000 Spent On Agriculture Event Gifts

LEXINGTON, Ky.   An investigation of former Agriculture Department Commissioner Richie Farmer's tenure found that about $60,000 in gifts were purchased for the 2008 gathering of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture in Lexington.

The Courier-Journal reports that visiting agriculture commissioners each got a Remington rifle with case, an engraved pocketknife and a custom-made wooden hat, among other gifts.

Records the department released Friday, in response to an Open Records Act request, show that sponsorships paid by corporations, agricultural associations and individuals covered at least 80 percent of the convention's $208,851 cost.

"Regardless of what was given away, I don't think there's any reason to think state resources were used on any of those gifts," Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True, said. "Because of that I don't think there's any impropriety here."

The convention expenses are being examined as part of a special audit of Farmer's 2003-2011 tenure. Current Agriculture Commissioner James Comer requested the audit after questions were the raised about Farmer's management, purchasing and hiring practices.

The 2008 convention became part of the audit on Jan. 17 when Farmer - just days after news reports about missing department equipment - returned some of the missing items along with seven rifles bought as gifts for the convention.

Convention expenses include $11,225 for guns, $2,373 for cases, $4,678 for pocketknives and $4,875 for custom-made wooden hats from a Somerset craftsman.

Other gifts listed in the ledger include more than $2,000 from Kentucky wineries, $2,300 from Kentucky candy stores, $1,500 from Fayette Mall and $850 from Kentucky Gentleman Cigar Co.

The largest donors to the event were Griffin Industries of Northern Kentucky, which gave $25,000, and the Southern Crop Production Association, which gave $24,000. The Kentucky Farm Bureau gave $6,000 and 13 associations, companies or individuals each gave $5,000. Those include Perdue Farms, Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, Kentucky Corn Promotion Council, Terminix, Tyson Foods, John Deere and Pfizer.