Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer told reporters Tuesday he was “disappointed” after a federal judge sentenced him to 27 months in prison for misuse of government funds.
That was the maximum sentence suggested by a plea agreement between Farmer, 44, and federal prosecutors. He must also pay $120,500 in restitution.
“This is about upholding the public trust,” U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove said before issuing the sentence.
Van Tatenhove ordered Farmer to report to prison March 18. He recommended that Farmer be allowed to serve his time at the minimum-security facility near his home in Manchester, the seat of Clay County in southeastern Kentucky where he grew up.
If the Bureau of Prisons allows the assignment, Farmer would be near his family, including three sons who are in or nearing their teenage years.
Farmer pleaded guilty in September to two felonies relating to excess gifts he claimed that had been purchased for visiting agriculture commissioners during a 2008 conference, hotel rooms used by his family during the conference and salaries for personal friends hired into the department who did little to no actual work on state time.
Van Tatenhove accepted the plea deal, agreeing with attorneys on both sides that the deal laid out a reasonable punishment and would also send a message of intolerance of corruption in politics.
“A very important consideration for us, your honor … was the fact that, especially in cases involving political figures, there is a real benefit to society at large to hear the defendant say, ‘I did it, I’m guilty,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor said. “There’s closure there.”
Farmer’s attorney, Guthrie True, said in court that his client was already paying for his actions.
“I guess the higher you climb in life, the risk is the farther you fall when you make a mistake,” True said.
True argued that Farmer had learned his lesson and the minimum 21-month sentence in the plea agreement would be reasonable.
“I am one bad decision away from being in that same spot,” True said. “And that holds true for all of us.”
Before he was sentenced, Farmer addressed the court for approximately two minutes.
“I made some mistakes and made some poor judgment,” Farmer said about his time as agriculture commissioner.
He got choked up when discussing the pain he has caused his family, many of who were present in the courtroom.
“I just want to say publicly that I am truly sorry for all of those things,” Farmer said.
Farmer was a member of the 1992 University of Kentucky basketball team dubbed “The Unforgettables.”
“Nothing I’m saying today takes away from any of those accomplishments,” Van Tatenhove said, addressing Farmer’s contribution to the team and their national championship. “That banner should stay hanging.”
As a convicted felon, he can no longer run for public office, possess a firearm or vote.
Federal prisoners are not eligible for parole, meaning Farmer will have to serve his entire 27-month sentence.
“You still owe a debt to society,” Van Tatenhove said. “You need to pay that debt.
“Who we are is not only our successes we’ve had, but also our failures.”
Van Tatenhove explained that while the sentence will take Farmer away from his children, it could also serve as a teaching tool for them on how to handle failure.
Farmer had been a rising star within the Kentucky GOP until an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2011 on a ticket with Republican state Senate President David Williams. They lost overwhelmingly to incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, in part because of the brewing scandal.
Farmer will be sentenced in Franklin Circuit Court Friday for separate charges of spending $10,500 in campaign funds improperly.
According to the plea agreement in that case, prosecutors with the Office of the Attorney General will recommend a one-year sentence for Farmer, to run concurrent with his federal time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.