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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

More On Richie Farmer, Kentucky's Former Agricultural Commissioner.

Richie Farmer ends up with hotel reward points after agriculture convention
Ex-official was host of 2008 agriculture convention
Written by Tom Loftus

FRANKFORT, KY. — The Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture paid nearly $80,000 to the Marriott Griffin Gate for its various services as host of the association’s 2008 convention at the Lexington resort.

But state emails indicate that it was the group’s then-president, former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer
, who was credited with 55,000 Marriott Rewards points earned in connection with the event.

Last week The Courier-Journal obtained hundreds of pages of records relating to the convention in response to an Open Records Act request filed with the office of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

The records are not clear about whether the reward points were related to a $67,730 bill paid by association or an $11,640 bill paid by the state agency, or both.

The records include a June 30, 2008, email from Marriott that begins, “Dear Richie Farmer, thank you for holding your recent event at one of the participating Marriott locations. This message confirms that you earned 55,000 Marriott Rewards points for holding your event at the Lexington Griffin Gate Resort. These Marriott Rewards points were added to your Marriott Rewards account on 06/30/2008.”

Other records include an email dated May 30, 2008, in which Farmer’s executive assistant sent his Marriott Rewards account number to the department official who was coordinating planning for the convention.

Holly VonLuehrte, general counsel for the Agriculture Department, said in an interview Tuesday, “It is our understanding from the individual that was managing this situation for the department that she was directed to ensure that those points were credited to the former commissioner.”

The website for Marriott Rewards says members can purchase 1,000 points for $12.50. At that rate, the 55,000 points that Farmer received are worth $687.50. Also, a customer service representative for Marriott Rewards said Tuesday that a one-night stay at a Marriott would cost between 7,500 to 40,000 points, depending on the category of the hotel.

During the first week of January, Comer asked state Auditor Adam Edelen for a special examination of Farmer’s 2003-11 tenure because of numerous questions raised in news accounts about spending and personnel matters within the department.

Just days after Edelen’s special audit began, Farmer delivered to the department some computer equipment that the agency had reported as missing. And he also brought onto Edelen’s radar the 2008 convention by delivering seven Remington hunting rifles. The rifles were among 25 bought as gifts to be distributed to visiting agriculture commissioners at the 2008 convention of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture, or SASDA.

Farmer did not return a telephone message seeking comment.

His attorney, Guthrie True, of Frankfort, said he was unaware of any hotel rewards earned by Farmer from the convention.

“I don’t know what the arrangement there was,” True said. “This is the first I heard about this, and I don’t know whether there’s any state policy against it.”

Cindy Lanham, spokeswoman for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet, said Tuesday that Farmer would not be in violation of any state regulations because they do not address whether a state official can keep hotel reward points for a convention organized by his department.

The Courier-Journal reported last month that $60,000 in gifts had been purchased for people who attended the 2008 convention of SASDA. Besides the hunting rifle with carrying case, about 15 visiting commissioners also received a pocket knife, a customized wooden cowboy hat worth $325, and a $50 gift card for Fayette Mall.

State records show that convention sponsorships — many purchased by corporations regulated by the department — covered more than 80 percent the convention’s cost of nearly $210,000.

Stephenie Steitzer, spokeswoman for Edelen, declined to say whether the 2008 convention is an issue being examined in the review of Farmer’s department. “We’ve had the policy throughout this to not comment on what we’re investigating,” Steitzer said. “We are wrapping this up and hope to make all of our findings public later this month.”

True said he does not know what to expect from Edelen’s report.

He said Edelen’s staff has not asked to interview Farmer. True also said he does not believe Farmer has been employed since leaving office Jan. 1.

“Richie is not working, to my knowledge. He’s being a dad and hoping to get all this behind him some time soon,” True said.



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