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Monday, September 24, 2012

FBI Is Investigating Richie Farmer's Stint As Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner.

FBI investigating Richie Farmer's stint as Kentucky agriculture commissioner

FRANKFORT, KY. — The FBI is investigating Richie Farmer’s stint as agriculture commissioner, his successor says.

“The attorney general’s office has notified me that the FBI is investigating the previous administration...” Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in an interview Friday. “They said that the FBI would be contacting some of our employees” who remain from Farmer’s years as commissioner.

“They told us this because these workers would obviously have to leave work early ... and these meetings could last several hours,” Comer said.

Comer said his office was notified late last week by Attorney General Jack Conway’s staff.

Comer said his staff was not told what aspects of Farmer’s 2004-11 tenure are under investigation.

Farmer’s tenure as agriculture commissioner was blasted in an April 30 audit by state Auditor Adam Edelen. The audit criticized Farmer’s administration on a wide range of financial and management isuues including possible misuse of state and federal funds.

Comer said he was not told what particular areas were of interest to the FBI. “I have no idea,” he said. “I’m just focused on running the Department of Agriculture.” The audit has been under review since April 30 by the attorney general’s office and the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

Allison Martin, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment on whether the FBI has also started to investigate. “It is the policy of our office not to confirm or deny the existence of investigations or lack thereof,” she said.

Mary Trotman, FBI special agent and media coordinator for the Louisville office, also said the FBI could neither confirm nor deny any investigation.

Farmer’s attorney, Guthrie True of Frankfort, said he was unaware of any FBI interest in Farmer. “I’ve always said I didn’t see anything in the audit that I thought would really get the interest of any investigative authority,” True said. “And I’m certainly not aware of anything in there that would be of interest to the FBI.”

Edelen’s audit found that Farmer used state employees for his personal benefit, including having them help build a basketball court in his backyard.

The audit criticized spending of $96,000 in state funds for an extravagant convention. It found time and travel abuses by favored employees as well as apparent violations of state law in the hiring and promotion of merit system employees.

In one instance involving federal resources, Edelen’s report found that Farmer’s department rerouted about $43,000 required to be spent on benefiting the ginseng industry to purchase vehicles for animal enforcement officers instead.

Meanwhile on Friday, Franklin County Judge Squire Williams rejected Farmer’s request to reduce his $1,227-a-month child-support payments, saying the former University of Kentucky basketball star is “voluntarily underemployed.”

However, Williams said Farmer won’t have to pay the money for two months while he recovers from hip surgery.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Williams said he couldn’t conclude that Farmer has been diligent about finding regular work since January.

Farmer had asked that the payments be reduced because of his surgery and because they were based on his $110,000 annual salary as agriculture secretary.

The payments would go toward his three sons, who are living his former wife, Rebecca.

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