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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Richie Farmer Returns seven (7) Rifles To Kentucky Agriculture Department. Enough Said.

Among equipment Richie Farmer returned: seven rifles
Written by Tom Loftus

FRANKFORT, KY. — When former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer returned missing state computer equipment to his old office last month, he also delivered a bit of a surprise — seven rifles.

The weapons were among those specially ordered to be given as gifts to visiting agriculture officials at the 2008 convention of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture, which Farmer’s agency hosted in Lexington.

Guthrie True, a Frankfort attorney who represents Farmer on matters relating to a special audit of his tenure as commissioner, said Wednesday that he advised Farmer to take the guns back to the department.

In an interview, True said that the guns were purchased with private donations raised to pay Kentucky’s costs for the convention and are not state property. He said the rifles were left over after the convention ended.

“Because I thought it was a good idea to eliminate any issue about these, I felt the best thing to do was to return them to the department. So, to me, that ends the issue,” he said.

True said he did not know how many guns were originally purchased for distribution at the convention, what kind they were, how much each gun cost or who contributed to the fund that helped pay the convention’s costs.

Farmer did not respond to numerous phone messages seeking comment.

Because of controversies involving purchasing, personnel and management of the department under Farmer, his successor James Comer requested the special audit within days of taking office at the beginning of the year.

State Auditor Adam Edelen agreed to do the audit, which is continuing.

On Thursday the spokeswoman for Edelen’s office, Stephenie Steitzer, declined comment on whether the guns were being examined as part of the audit.

As to why Farmer kept the guns after his term ended Jan. 1, True said, “He was the chair of the function, he was the one — he and others — who raised the private money. He was the one who was providing them as gifts to those persons who attended. So he was the one who had custody of them. And they didn’t belong to the Department of Agriculture.”

True said that after Farmer delivered the guns to the department, “I don’t believe he kept one for himself.”

State government’s ethics code requires executive branch officials to disclose on annual reports to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission certain financial information, including gifts received worth more than $200. Reports Farmer filed as commissioner for 2008, as well as other years, list no such gifts.

But True said Farmer would not have been required to report the guns from the convention, even if they exceeded $200 in value.

“I would think not because they were never purchased with the intent that they were a gift to him. They were purchased with the intent that they would be distributed at the function,” True said.

John Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said he could neither confirm nor deny any matter under investigation by the commission.

True also declined to comment on that question.

“If there were any investigation pending I think I’d be acting inappropriately to acknowledge one way or the other,” True said.

In early January Comer’s department released lists of missing department property totalling $324,000 in response to Open Records Act requests from the news media. The missing items included computer equipment and other state property that had been assigned to Farmer or his office.

Later requests turned up documents showing that Farmer returned some of that computer equipment after published reports about the missing property.

This week The Courier-Journal filed a follow-up records request seeking documents showing any items delivered by Farmer that may not be state property.

In response, the department released a copy of a receipt given Farmer on Jan. 17, which listed the computer equipment he had returned along with seven serial numbers identified as “Rifles.” It didn’t say what kind of rifles.

Holly VonLuehrte, general counsel for the department, said in a letter responding to the records request that the receipt “notes the delivery of seven rifles which may not be state government property. Upon receipt of these rifles, Commissioner Comer took steps to ensure they were properly and safely stored.”

VonLuehrte declined to answer questions about the guns or the funding of the 2008 convention, citing Edelen’s continuing audit.

True said he thought that the guns at issue were shotguns. But he said he has never seen them, and “I may be wrong about that.”

He said they were made on a special order and were later stamped with an inscription and the logo of Kentucky Proud — the agriculture department’s marketing campaign.

He said a minimum number of guns must be purchased for such special orders. And, however many were ordered, he said they were intended to be given as gifts to “particular folks” at the convention.

“There were some folks that didn’t show,” True said, “and these were essentially leftover guns.”

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