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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More Fallout From The Richie Farmer Fiasco, As New Commissioner James Cormer Places Deputy Bruce Harper On Unpaid Administrative Leave Over Ethics Charges.

Deputy agriculture commissioner placed on unpaid leave following ethics charges

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — A Kentucky Department of Agriculture employee who was charged with ethics violations Monday following an investigation of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer has been placed on unpaid leave.

Meanwhile, Farmer’s sister, who also was charged with ethics violations, remains on the state payroll as assistant executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Farmer, who was state agriculture commissioner from 2004 to 2011, was charged Monday with 42 counts of violating state ethics law, the most ever issued against an individual by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

The charges against Farmer, a popular University of Kentucky basketball player during the 1990s, included misuse of state employees and state resources, improper use of grants and improper use of Kentucky Proud marketing funds. Farmer’s attorney, J. Guthrie True of Frankfort, said he does not think Farmer has done anything wrong.

Also charged with ethics violations were seven other people — two of whom were on the state payroll.

Holly VonLuehrte, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, said Tuesday that deputy Agriculture Commissioner Bruce D. Harper has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, pending resolution of his case. He was charged with three counts of ethics violations.
“This is a serious matter and Commissioner James Comer can’t let it distract from the actions of this office,” VonLuehrte said.

Harper, whose salary was $70,693 a year, allegedly solicited donations for a conference from businesses that the department regulates.
In 2010, Harper allegedly instructed department employees to probate a $200 fine to zero for a farmer who had violated dead-animal disposal laws. Harper allegedly did so because the farmer had contacted his state representative, who, in turn, contacted Harper to pressure the department to remove the fine.
Harper also allegedly interfered with the enforcement and penalty procedures against a grain dealer who was a political contributor.

Rhonda Monroe, Farmer’s sister, is assistant executive director of the election finance registry with an annual salary of $77,391. She was charged with three ethics violations.
Sarah M. Jackson, executive director of the registry, was asked Tuesday if any job action will be taken against Monroe.
“We do not comment on personnel matters,” Jackson said.

Monroe allegedly advised her brother and his then-wife to claim reimbursement from his campaign account for trips that he did not make and for trips that were made by his then-wife for private direct-sales business.
She also allegedly gave her brother some personal receipts that she then guided him to submit for reimbursement from his campaign account for his own financial gain and allegedly assisted him as he responded to a registry audit.

Each ethics violation carries a possible fine of up to $5,000. An officer of the commission is to hold an administrative hearing on the alleged violations and report to the commission, which will decide whether to impose any penalties.

Update 3/20: Richie Farmer's sister now joins ranks of the suspended. Read more here.

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