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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- A federal grand jury has indicted former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer. But the former UK basketball star's attorney says Farmer is a victim of a political witch hunt.
Farmer parlayed his basketball fame into two terms as state agriculture commissioner, and an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.
But now, the federal government says Farmer used thousands of tax dollars to benefit himself, his family, and friends. The five-count indictment charges Farmer with abusing his authority throughout his tenure, misusing public funds to purchase rifles, clothes, hotel rooms and appliances for himself, his friends, and family.
"The indictment alleges that there was an ongoing breach of the public trust," said Kerry Harvey, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
One example allegedly occurred in 2008, when Farmer hosted a conference for other Departments of Agriculture across the south. According to the indictment, Farmer bought 25 custom made rifles, 25 rifle cases, 52 embossed knives, and 50 personalized cigar boxes for the 13 commissioners who attended. He also allegedly purchased 175 customized watches for 39 department employees who worked the conference.
"The number of gifts purchased far exceeded the need. And Mr. Farmer allegedly appropriated the excess gifts for his personal use," said Harvey.
Farmer is also accused of using state funds to reserve hotel rooms at the State Fair for his family and friends, and of putting them in dubious state jobs for which there was little work.
He's also charged with using state employees for personal services, including building a basketball court at his home, babysitting, and mowing his lawn. It adds up to $450,000 in misused tax dollars. And Farmer also allegedly solicited property for influence, what amounts to an attempted bribe.
"Public corruption has always been a very high priority for this office and a very high priority for the FBI. So, it's certainly a matter that we take very seriously," said Harvey.
Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True, says Farmer did nothing wrong and accused the federal government of overstepping its bounds.
"The matter in which the elected Commissioner of the Ky. Dept. of Agriculture conducts his business is a political, not a legal issue," said True.
True says Farmer, who is now unemployed, is a victim of dirty politics by Farmer's opponents. "Should he have elected to make himself available for public service, they should have elected to stand in competition with him. Not to try to eliminate him from politics in Kentucky."
Farmer faces 10 years and a $250,000 fine on each of the five counts. The federal government also wants Farmer to repay the money he's accused of misusing.
His first court appearance is set for April 30 in Lexington.