Farmer Set To Pay Largest Ethics Fine In State History
FRANKFORT, Ky. - A former University of Kentucky basketball star turned politician will pay the largest ethics fine in state history as part of a plea agreement that would resolve an array of criminal and administrative charges, an official said Monday.
John Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, declined to reveal the amount of the fine because he said the terms of the settlement agreement with his agency are contingent on Farmer's guilty plea later this week on state and federal government corruption charges.
Farmer, whose jersey hangs as a monument in the rafters of Rupp Area, reached a plea deal with prosecutors last week that would put him in prison for about two years.
Steffen said the settlement agreement, approved by members of the ethics commission Monday, includes the most counts ever against a government official. That's appropriate, Steffen said, "because it is by far the worst misconduct by a public servant that we've seen."
Prosecutors alleged that during his tenure as director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Farmer used government employees to work on his Frankfort home and to build a basketball court in his backyard. They said he also hired friends, including his girlfriend, as special assistants who did little or no work. They accused Farmer of directing agency employees to drive him on personal errands, babysit his children, mow his lawn and transport his dog. Farmer also was accused of misappropriating agency property for his own use.
"What he did was wrong," Steffen said. "We can't have state officials or anyone in government misuse their positions like he did, so he's being held accountable."
Farmer, the sweet-shooting guard for a UK team dubbed "The Unforgettables" for their gutsy play, launched a political career that came crashing down during a bid for lieutenant governor two years ago when complaints began to surface about his management of the agriculture department. He headed the department from 2004 through 2011.
Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True of Frankfort, filed a motion for a change of plea last Thursday, signaling that he has reached agreements to resolve all pending and potential criminal and ethics charges.
Terms of the plea agreement require Farmer to plead guilty in U.S. district court to two counts of misappropriating state resources, as well as one count of violating state campaign-finance law in Franklin County circuit court.
Farmer was indicted in federal court in Lexington in April on four counts of misappropriating government property and money and one count of soliciting property in exchange for a government grant. He has remained free pending trial, though his travel was restricted to within Kentucky.
Farmer was set to stand trial Oct. 22. Instead, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove scheduled Farmer to appear in court on Friday to enter the guilty plea.
He could have faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the five federal counts. Prosecutors had said they would also seek $450,000 - the amount that was allegedly misappropriated - from Farmer, a Republican who was elected twice as agriculture commissioner in a state that is predominantly Democrat by voter registration.
Under the agreement, Farmer would face a sentence of up to two years and three months in prison, and pay total fines and restitution of $120,500.