Kentucky sports hero turned politician Richie Farmer pleaded not guilty Thursday to criminal charges related to his management of the Department of Agriculture.
The basketball icon whose jersey hangs from the rafters of the University of Kentucky's Rupp Arena was charged in an indictment earlier this week with four counts of misappropriating government property and money and one count of soliciting property in exchange for a government grant.
Farmer appeared Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Robert Wier in U.S. District Court in Lexington with his attorney, Guthrie True.
True entered the plea for Farmer, who answered only "yes" and "yes, sir" in response to questions from Wier.
The arraignment for former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer is now scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Lexington. Farmer’s arraignment had originally been set for next Tuesday, but was moved up because of a scheduling conflict with Farmer’s lawyer, Guthrie True.
Earlier this week the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Farmer had been indicted on four counts of theft from a program involving federal funds and one count of soliciting a bribe.
The charges against Farmer include allegations that he took guns, watches, and knives bought as gifts from a convention in 2008.
Each of the five counts against the former UK basketball star carries a penalty of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000. Any sentence following a conviction would be imposed by a judge under federal court sentencing guidelines.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer doesn't expect the indictment of his predecessor, Richie Farmer, to damage the department. Comer says he feels sorry for Farmer's family because of the indictment, but it won't be a distraction for the department.
Comer and his staff have cooperated with multiple investigations into Farmer, and his goal is to distance the office from the officeholder.
"I hope the confidence has been restored. I work hard every day, I go to events every day to promote agriculture. We brought in all new management, we're efficient, we're transparent," said Comer, a Monroe County native.
Farmer has been indicted on five counts related to allegations he misused his office to obtain gifts and misappropriated state funds during his two terms as commissioner. He could face up to ten years in prison and a quarter million dollar fine.