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Thu September 5, 2013
Richie Farmer Reaches Plea Deal, Could Get 2 Years
FRANKFORT, Ky. — A former University of Kentucky basketball star whose jersey hangs in the rafters of Rupp Arena has reached a plea deal with prosecutors in a government corruption case that would put him in prison for some two years.
Richie 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 Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True of Frankfort, filed a motion for a change of plea on Thursday morning, signaling that he has reached agreements to resolve all pending and potential criminal and ethics charges.
"Richie deeply regrets the pain which has been inflicted on his family, as well as any embarrassment he has caused the good people of Kentucky," True said in a statement. "In part, this is why he has decided to bring an end to what would have turned into a spectacle which would have run on for months, if not years."
Farmer had been scheduled to stand trial Oct. 22 on a five-count federal indictment. Instead, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove is now expected to set a date for Farmer to enter a guilty plea.
The deal True brokered also resolves 42 charges pending before the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, plus potentially more federal and state charges.
"Federal prosecutors have made clear their intention to bring a second federal indictment against Richie," True said. "In addition, the Office of the Kentucky Attorney General intends to file charges against Richie and his sister alleging state law campaign finance violations. This means that Richie faces the prospect of defending against two multi-count indictments in federal court, a multi-count state court indictment, and ethics charges. This reality has proven to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially overwhelming for Richie and the entire Farmer family."
Farmer, 44, 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, who served as agriculture commissioner from 2004 through 2011, could have faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the five existing 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.
The plea bargain whittles down not just the potential prison time but also the financial penalties. If the agreement is approved, Farmer would face a sentence of up to two years and three months in prison, and pay total fines and restitution of $120,500, True said.
U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey alleged that Farmer had used government employees to work on his Frankfort home, even to build a basketball court in his backyard, and that he hired friends, including his girlfriend, as special assistants who did little or no work for the agriculture department. Harvey 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.
The federal indictment said Farmer used an account that mingled private and government funds to buy gifts, including customized Remington rifles and embossed Case knives, for visiting state agriculture commissioners during a 2008 national conference. The indictment said Farmer kept many of the gifts for himself.
Although he played more than 20 years ago, the homegrown athlete from impoverished Clay County remains a household name in Kentucky. His jersey was retired alongside the likes of Dan Issel, Pat Riley, Kenny Walker and Sam Bowie. He was easily elected twice as state agriculture commissioner, but encountered difficulties in 2011 during his bid for lieutenant governor. Besides the allegations of misdeeds, Farmer's wife filed a high-profile divorce case.
Terms of the plea agreement require Farmer to plead guilty to two counts of misappropriating state resources in U.S. district court, as well as one count of violating state campaign finance law in Franklin County circuit court. He also will admit to the bulk of the allegations in the state ethics complaint because the guilty pleas could be used against him in an ethics proceeding, True said.