By ROGER ALFORD, Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A former University of Kentucky basketball star whose jersey hangs as a monument in the rafters of Rupp Arena has reached a plea deal with prosecutors in a government corruption case that would put him in prison for two years.
Richie Farmer, the sweet-shooting guard for a UK team dubbed “The Unforgettables” for their gutsy play, launched a political career that came crashing down during a bid for lieutenant governor two years ago when complaints began to surface about his management of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Farmer’s attorney, Guthrie True of Frankfort, filed a motion for a change of plea Thursday morning, signaling that he has reached agreements to resolve all pending and potential criminal and ethics charges.
“Richie deeply regrets the pain which has been inflicted on his family, as well as any embarrassment he has caused the good people of Kentucky,” True said in a statement. “In part, this is why he has decided to bring an end to what would have turned into a spectacle which would have run on for months, if not years.”
U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey said Farmer’s attorney cited several reasons why his client has decided to plead guilty.
“While various factors may influence any defendant’s decision to plead guilty, there is a common thread that motivates every guilty plea,” Harvey said in a statement. “Defendants plead guilty because they are guilty, and they understand that the prosecution is prepared to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Farmer had been scheduled to stand trial Oct. 22 on a five-count federal indictment. Instead, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove is now expected to set a date for Farmer to enter the guilty plea, possibly as early as next week.
The deal True brokered also resolves 42 charges pending before the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, plus potentially more federal and state charges. Ethics Commission Executive Director John R. Steffen acknowledged Thursday that a tentative settlement has been reached with Farmer, pending final approval by members. He said he couldn’t discuss the terms of that agreement.
“Federal prosecutors have made clear their intention to bring a second federal indictment against Richie,” True said. “In addition, the Office of the Kentucky Attorney General intends to file charges against Richie and his sister alleging state law campaign finance violations. This means that Richie faces the prospect of defending against two multi-count indictments in federal court, a multi-count state court indictment, and ethics charges. This reality has proven to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially overwhelming for Richie and the entire Farmer family.”
Farmer, 44, was indicted in federal court in Lexington in April on four counts of misappropriating government property and money and one count of soliciting property in exchange for a government grant. He has remained free pending trial, though his travel was restricted to within Kentucky.
Farmer, who served as agriculture commissioner from 2004 through 2011, could have faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the five existing federal counts.
Prosecutors had said they would also seek $450,000 — the amount that was allegedly misappropriated — from Farmer, a Republican who was elected twice as agriculture commissioner in a state that is predominantly Democrat by voter registration.
The plea bargain whittles down not just the potential prison time but also the financial penalties. If the agreement is approved, Farmer would face a sentence of up to two years and three months in prison, and pay total fines and restitution of $120,500, True said.