FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Executive Branch Ethics Commission on Monday charged former agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer with a record 42 ethics violations, saying the onetime college basketball star misused state funds and state employees while in office.
Farmer's attorney' J. Guthrie True, told The Associated Press that Farmer acted appropriately and ethically during his eight-year stint as agriculture commissioner, which ended in 2011.
The mountain of charges include accusations that Farmer gave jobs to friends, had state employees build a basketball court on his property and gave state-purchased laptops to his family members. One charge alleges he spent more than $30,000 to take visiting agriculture commissioners to Churchill Downs to gamble.
One of the oddest charges alleges Farmer directed department employees "to chauffeur the family dog from the Kentucky State Fair (in Louisville) to Farmer's home in Frankfort." Farmer also allegedly kept for himself guns, knives and watches that his office bought as gifts for agriculture commissioners from other states, according to the commission.
"We have not seen misuse of office at this level in the nearly nine years I've been with the commission," John R. Steffen, the commission's executive director, told reporters. "We've not seen anything that compares to this abuse of public trust and abuse of public office. And that sums up what these 42 counts indicate more than anything. "
Steffen said 42 counts is the largest number the commission has ever issued at one time, far surpassing the last record of 16.
Farmer, a beloved former basketball player who was part of the University of Kentucky's basketball team dubbed the "Unforgettables," faces a $5,000 fine for each count.
Seven employees who worked with Farmer also face ethics charges.
True said his office has 20 days to file a written response.
"Obviously, I'm very disappointed to see the ethics commission has charged him with anything and particularly disappointed in the number of charges that have been issued," Guthrie said.
The charges come nearly a year after a scathing state audit characterized the agriculture department under Farmer as "a toxic culture of entitlement." The ethics commission and auditor have turned over their reports to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and attorney general's office. Farmer has not been charged with any crime.
After the release of the auditor's report last year, True told the AP that Farmer's standing as an athlete meant he often received the gifts, including a free load of concrete to build a basketball court at Farmer's home.
True said Farmer received the perks mentioned in the audit because of his status as a basketball icon, not as a politician.
"Those people, as we know in our culture, all across the nation but particularly here, they're celebrities," True said last year. "They're somewhat idols in many respects. And so I think what the auditors probably failed to recognize is that much of what he received along these lines don't have anything to do with Richie Famer, commissioner of agriculture. They have to do with Richie Farmer, No. 32. Richie Farmer, a member of the Unforgettables."
The homegrown athlete from impoverished Clay County remains one of the biggest names for fans of one of the country's most successful college basketball programs. His jersey hangs in the rafters of Rupp Arena alongside those of Dan Issel, Pat Riley, Kenny Walker and Sam Bowie.
Farmer had been a rising star within the Kentucky GOP until a 2011 unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Republican state Senate President David Williams. They lost overwhelmingly to incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, in part because of the brewing scandal.
Guthrie said Farmer continues to sell cars.
"I spoke to him today and he's out on the road working and hustling," Guthrie said.
In addition to charging Farmer, the ethics commission issued an advisory opinion stating that employees must report suspected ethics violations. W. David Denton, the commission's chair, told reporters that state workers can no longer claim "the Nuremberg defense" of merely following orders.
Bruce Harper, a current deputy commissioner in the Department of Agriculture, faces three counts of ethics violations, the commission said. One charge alleges that Harper tried to prevent a political contributor from having to pay a $3,000 fine for violating Kentucky's grain law.
Chris Parsons and George "Doug" Begley, former inspectors for the department, each face five counts, including allegations that they falsified timesheets for work they didn't do, according to authorities.
William E. Mobley, a former special assistant, faces two counts, which allege that he falsified his timesheets.
Steven C. Mobley, a former director of marketing and agribusiness recruitment, is accused of falsifying the timesheets of his brother William Mobley.
Stephanie L. Sandmann, former staff assistant in the agriculture commissioner's office and Farmer's onetime girlfriend, faces one count of allegedly falsifying her timesheets.
Rhonda Monroe, assistant executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance and Farmer's sister, faces three counts. During Farmer's re-election bid for agriculture commissioner, she allegedly helped Farmer make fraudulent campaign-related expense claims for his own financial gain.
The AP left a telephone message for Harper that was not immediately returned. Telephone numbers could not be found for Begley, Parsons, Steven Mobley, William Mobley, Monroe or Sandmann.