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Former Kentucky department head crushes ethics violations record

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March 19, 2013

Kentucky

By Maresa Strano

FRANKFORT, Kentucky: On March 18, 2013, the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission charged former state agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer (R) with 42 counts of ethics violations and a reported $210,000 in potential fines; until Farmer's conviction, the record number of charges dealt to an individual member of the executive branch was 16. Farmer was charged with seven others, among them, his sister, an employee Kentucky Registry of Election Finance employee, and six of his ex-colleagues from the agriculture department.[1]

The state's investigation into Farmer stemmed from a report issued by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen in Spring of 2012 that blamed Farmer for engendering a "toxic culture of entitlement" within the department during his two terms as commissioner. Edelen's report, and the subsequent charges by the Ethics Commission, accused Farmer of a number of practices labeled as misuse of office. They include "improperly accepting gifts, including 12 hunting rifles, 35 case knives, wristwatches, cigars, candy and booze bought for a lavish 2008 agriculture commissioners’ convention in Lexington." At the time of his conviction, abounding speculation about an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Attorney General's office--led by state AG Jack Conway--into Farmer's alleged misconduct could not be confirmed.[2]

As the official watchdog of the Kentucky state government, Edelen commended the ethics commission's efforts to expose the offices' unethical activities under Farmer's leadership, saying, "The message is clear: No one is above the law."

Well after his initial rise to prominence in the late 1980's for his role on the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, Farmer was elected to the state office of commissioner of agriculture in November of 2003. He was ineligible for re-election due to term limits in 2011, and therefore decided to run for lieutenant governor in 2011 on the Republican ticket with state Senator David Williams. The pair lost to incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear and his running mate, former Louisville mayor Jerry E. Abramson. Farmer was succeeded in the commissioner's post by fellow Republican James Comer, Jr. in January of 2012.

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