An audit of former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer's administration has revealed multiple abuses of state resources.
The report says the former University of Kentucky basketball star illegally hired friends and family, used department resources for Christmas gifts and made state employees mow his yard and build a basketball court at his home on state time.
Farmer did not interview for the audit. His attorney, Guthrie True, calls the report a political stunt by two men, State Auditor Adam Edelen and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who hope to have long political futures.
“My response is I think in a lot of ways we’re going to find that the audit itself is a very political and self-serving audit. It’s pretty much what we expected,” True said in his Frankfort office.
Edelen says it appears several of Farmer's actions were illegal, and the law doesn’t make exceptions for basketball greats.
“The responsibility for holding accountable a man I once cheered as a kid is a grim one. But the law makes no distinction between icons and the rest of us and neither do I,” Edelen says.
Both Edelen, a Democrat and Comer, a Republican like Farmer, were united in their blame of Farmer for many of the problems at the department. Comer says when he interviewed all Ag Department employees during his transition, his team determined morale was at an all-time low. And Edelen says that many employees said they felt if they did not go along with the abuses, they would be fired from their jobs. Edelen says the workplace under Farmer was hostile, and it appears Farmer violated the law. The report has been sent to state and federal law enforcement agencies.
“Clearly if you read the audit you’ll see that we allege that they were, merit system abuses are a violation of state law. Certainly the law doesn’t think it’s a good idea that you use phantom employees to reverse rooms for your parents,” Edelen says.
Comer requested the investigation into Farmer’s tenure upon taking office earlier this year. Standing with Edelen at the audit’s release, Comer said the report has been a monumental burden for the department.
“Well I’m not going to lie; this was like raising the Titanic here. But I will say with the help of the auditor’s office and with the conclusion of this report today we can move forward at the Department of Agriculture,” Comer says.
Auditors found that Farmer “called a merit employee who was attending a training course at a local university and directed him to drive him to an outdoor sportsman's store in Indiana. In another, he reportedly directed an employee to drive him to hunt. The former commissioner reportedly shot a deer from his state-issued vehicle and directed the employee to bag it for him.”
Other abuses include:
- Using more than $4,000 in state funds to book hotel rooms for members of Farmer's family during the State Fair, despite those family members not staying the night
- Twice using state resources to make Christmas gift baskets to give to his family
- Using laptops designed for state use for his own personal use, then “aggressively wiping” them clean
- No report of gifts, despite receiving them, including more than $900 in concrete that Farmer used when state employees built a basketball court in his backyard.
- Illegal use of U.S. Fish and Wildlife and tobacco settlement funds
- Allowing an employee to be reimbursed for more than $70,000 for mileage when no work was apparently done
- Illegal state hiring and use of state vehicles as take home cars