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Richie Farmer Kentucky Agriculture Dept. investigation out Monday, 2008 convention probed

Richie Farmer Kentucky Agriculture Dept. investigation out Monday, 2008 convention probed

by WHAS11

WHAS11.com

Posted on April 27, 2012 at 5:41 PM

Updated Sunday, Apr 29 at 11:43 PM

(WHAS11) -- The report on the special examination of the Richie Farmer Kentucky Agriculture Department administration will be released on Monday. 

Both Auditor Adam Edelen and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer will attend the briefing, according to an advisory from the auditor's office.

WHAS11 News has learned that a 2008 agriculture conference that was the subject of a WHAS11 investigation is a significant focus of the report. 

The main question of the audit appears to be whether Farmer abused his authority in how he used state resources. 

Though Farmer's agriculture department raised close to $200,000 in private donations to pay for the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture Convention, the WHAS11 investigation found that at least $26,000 in state funds were used to pay for agriculture department employees’ registration and hotel stays.

In 2008, then Commissioner Farmer complained that his department didn't have enough money to inspect all the gas pumps and amusement rides in Kentucky.

"If it gets into a situation where we have to cut personnel, it's going to impact people out there in the state," Farmer said.

Yet when Farmer - as president of a Southern States Agricultural Association - hosted the 2008 meeting at the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa in Lexington, he found enough state money to pay the conference registrations of 53 Kentucky employees at a total cost to taxpayers of more than $15,000.

"Some of them were - again - heading committees," Farmer told WHAS11 in July, 2008, "and when you've got that many people from the other states that are there, we wanted to make sure that they had a pleasant experience and also giving our employees an opportunity to work with people from the other states.”

State employees not only worked with the 150 others who attended the five-day conference, they played and wined and dined with them, including a $17,000 dinner at the Kentucky Horse Park and a $20,000 Day at the Races at Churchill Downs, according to a recent report in the Lexington Herald-Leader.  The newspaper's review showed $104,000 spent on food and drink, including open-bar receptions.

The conference drew agriculture commissioners from 13 states to Lexington.

The WHAS11 investigation found that taxpayers footed an $11,000 hotel bill for nearly two dozen AgricultureDepartment employees -- despite some living or working in Frankfort, just 25 miles away.  At the time, Farmer reasoned that it saved on gas money.

"We kind of felt that it was really money saving or at least feasible to do that," Farmer said.

Farmer has subsequently come under fire for the personal use of state vehicles, TVs and refrigerators, hiring his girlfriend and her friend in the closing months of his tenure, a Caribbean convention, and other hotel stays in Louisville and Lexington.

"There seems to be a story about me every day," Farmer said in April 2011 during his campaign for lieutenant governor, "but I think it's aggravating that the way that it gets out there is not true."

Yet, newly elected commissioner James Comer - a fellow Republican - had heard enough from employees within days of taking office in January to invite the investigation.

"I don't care about what's politically correct," Comer said in January, "I want to do the right thing."

 

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