The Executive Branch Ethics Commission has reached the largest settlement in its history with former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, but details of the deal will not be available until Farmer pleads guilty Friday to two felonies in federal court.
The ethics panel had levied 42 charges against Farmer in March, the most ever by the commission. Among the allegations were that Farmer influenced hiring people with personal and political connections to him, used Department of Agriculture employees to perform personal errands, misused state equipment and accepted three all-terrain vehicles from an automotive dealership in exchange for a state grant.
Farmer faced up to $210,000 in fines, but his attorney, Guthrie True, said in a press release announcing Farmer’s intent to plead guilty to a litany of charges that the ethics and court costs would total $120,500. Farmer faces between 21 and 27 months in prison, True said in the release.
Still, John Steffen, executive director of the ethics commission, said Farmer’s settlement is the largest in the panel’s history both in terms of charges and fines. Some of the charges were consolidated, but Farmer agreed he had violated all of the ethics allegations against him, Steffen said.
“Even under the terms of the settlement, it’s still the biggest penalty and most counts or charges we’ve ever had,” Steffen said in a phone interview.
He could not release the settlement, which is contingent on Farmer’s guilty plea, nor could he give a number of charges or amount of fines until Farmer pleads guilty in federal court. Farmer is scheduled to change his plea 10 a.m. Friday at the federal courthouse in Frankfort before U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove.
The ethics commission also reached a settlement with Farmer’s sister, Rhonda Monroe, a former assistant executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. She accepted the three charges against her and agreed to pay a $6,000 fine.
Monroe helped Farmer file fraudulent mileage claims and receipts for reimbursement while running for a second term as agriculture commissioner, and she also helped him respond to an audit by the registry, according to the agreement.
Monroe and Farmer intend to plead guilty to charges of misusing $10,500 in campaign funds in Franklin Circuit Court this month, Attorney General Jack Conway said last week. Farmer will get a one-year sentence to run concurrently with his anticipated federal time while Monroe will be probated two years and cannot seek state government employment for five years, according to the plea agreement.
Seven other former Department of Agriculture employees were charged with ethics violations alongside Farmer in March. Four have settled and agreed to pay fines ranging from $100 to $6,500, leaving three — including Stephanie Sandmann, Farmer’s girlfriend and a former staff assistant at the department — with cases still pending.