Former Ag Commissioner Ended Up With Hotel Points

Apr 4, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky.  -- Records show former Agriculture Commission Richie Farmer received hotel reward points after hosting a convention at the Marriott Griffin Gate in Lexington.

The Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture held its annual convention at the hotel in 2008 at a cost of almost $80,000, which was divided between the organization and the Kentucky Agriculture Department.

According to emails obtained by The Louisville Courier-Journal under an open records request, 55,000 hotel reward points earned in relation to the visit went to Farmer, who at the time served as president of the organization.

Farmer did not return a phone call from the newspaper requesting comment.

Current Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has requested an audit for the period during Farmer's tenure after media raised several questions about spending and personnel.

Agriculture Department attorney Holly VonLuehrte told the newspaper Tuesday, "It is our understanding from the individual that was managing this situation for the department that she was directed to ensure that those points were credited to the former commissioner."

A Marriott Rewards customer service representative said that depending on the category of the hotel, a one-night stay earns anywhere between 7,500 and 40,000 points.

Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True, said he wasn't aware of the situation.

"I don't know what the arrangement there was," True said. "This is the first I heard about this, and I don't know whether there's any state policy against it."

Finance and Administration Cabinet spokeswoman Cindy Lanham said Tuesday that Farmer did not violate any state regulations.

A spokeswoman for Auditor Adam Edelen declined to say whether the convention was among items being reviewed while Farmer held office.

"We've had the policy throughout this to not comment on what we're investigating," spokeswoman Stephenie Steitzer said. "We are wrapping this up and hope to make all of our findings public later this month."