FRANKFORT, Ky. — Richie Farmer left his rural upbringing to pursue basketball fame with the University of Kentucky and two terms as the state’s agriculture commissioner, but it was a sense of entitlement that brought down his political career.
Farmer was sentenced Tuesday to more than two years in prison for abusing his public office, hiring friends and having them do little to no work and using state employees to build a basketball court at his home, prosecutors said.
Farmer will head to federal prison March 18 to being serving 27 months behind bars. U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove recommended that Farmer, 44, be allowed to serve his time at the minimum-security facility near his home in Manchester, the seat of Clay County in southern 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.
“It’s pretty easy to be a hero to your kids when your jersey hangs in Rupp Arena,” Van Tatenhove said. “Your chance to be a dad and a good dad to your kids is exponential because now you get to tell them what to do when you fail.”
Farmer pleaded guilty in September to two counts of misappropriating government resources. He was also ordered to pay $120,500 in restitution.
Farmer was a shooting guard for the 1991-1992 team known as “The Unforgettables” for their gutsy play and for turning the Wildcats around after a couple of years on probation.
Both during the sentencing hearing and outside the courthouse, Farmer apologized but didn’t talk specifically about what he had done.
“If you make bad decisions and poor judgments, you own up to them,” he said.
The judge said Farmer’s misdeeds ran wide and deep during his eight years in office.
“It’s sad to read,” Van Tatenhove said. “There is a sense of entitlement. There’s greed … kind of a culture of entitlement is not really understating it.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor said the sentence will ensure the end of Farmer’s political career.
“This sentence should speak more to others who might be disposed to do what he’s done,” Taylor said.
After the hearing, Farmer’s attorney, J. Guthrie True, said everyone was glad the legal battle was over.
“He served our state quite well in many respects as commissioner of agriculture,” True said. “He’s accomplished a lot in life and he’ll be able to accomplish more.”
Prosecutors have outlined a wide-range of abuses by Farmer, including using state employees for personal business and keeping some items, such as laptops, small refrigerators and filing cabinets after leaving office in 2012.
As a high school standout, Farmer was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1988. He played shooting guard for Kentucky from 1988 to 1992, and had career averages of 7.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game.
The Wildcats’ run in the NCAA Tournament ended in a regional final against Duke, a matchup often cited as the greatest college game ever played. The heavily favored Blue Devils survived an overtime thriller when Duke forward Christian Laettner caught a long pass near the free throw line, took one dribble and hit the jump shot at the buzzer to win the game.
It was Kentucky’s first trip to the postseason after a two-year ban for NCAA infractions. Farmer and teammates Deron Feldhaus, Sean Woods, and John Pelphrey became well-known and their jerseys, including Farmer’s No. 32, were retired.
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.