By RONNIE ELLIS
Richie Farmer’s attorney entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf Thursday before a federal magistrate here on charges of misappropriating more than $450,000 in public funds during his tenure as Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Federal Magistrate Robert E. Wier set a trial date for July 2, 2013, but Farmer’s attorney, Guthrie True, said afterward he’d seek a continuance in order to give him more time to prepare Farmer’s defense.
Wier said Farmer represented minimal flight risk and allowed the former two-term Republican Commissioner of Agriculture to remain free on his own recognizance.
But Wier denied a request to allow Farmer, who is unemployed, and “his significant other,” later identified by True as Farmer’s girlfriend Stephanie Sandmann, to travel to Cancun, Mexico in May on a previously planned and paid for trip.
Farmer, 43, is charged with four counts of misappropriating public funds and of solicitation of property in exchange for influencing agriculture department policies and actions.
Each count carries a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years and fines of up to $200,000. Weir said under federal statutes the U.S. Department of Justice could seek to have the fines doubled.
A federal grand jury last Friday returned a sealed indictment last Friday which was unsealed Monday. It alleges Farmer took for his personal use excess guns, knives, watches and gift cards purchased as gifts for participants at a 2008 Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture in Lexington and directed KDA staff to reserve hotel rooms in their names at the state fair which were used instead by Farmer’s extended family.
The indictment also alleges Farmer created non-merit jobs for “close associates” who performed little or unnecessary work and that Farmer used KDA personnel to perform personal chores and errands and indicates federal authorities will seek $450,000 in restitution, allegedly the amount he misappropriated.
True contends the charges set a “dangerous precedent” for the U.S. Department of Justice to question political and policy decisions by other government agencies and has said Farmer has not done anything wrong.
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