“Hey Y’all — you hear about Richie? Them prosecutors up in the Capital goin’ to try an’ put him in jail. Says right here in the paper that our Richie might do some serious time. They can’t do that to our Richie.”
You can imagine comments like that one being made down in Clay County this week, where I hear the former Agriculture Commissioner has found a job selling cars, an occupation taken up by plenty of former athletes. Not many sports legends, however, have risen so high and fallen so far, from having his jersey hoisted to the rafters at Rupp Arena and being the Republican Party’s golden boy set to re-capture the governor’s office — to the point where he faces a real possibility of being fitted for an orange jumpsuit.
What a difference a year or two makes.
During Farmer’s eight years as Agriculture Commissioner, he apparently forgot that even statewide legends have to abide by some of the rules, and now the evidence is overwhelming that Farmer broke the law. To the tune of $450,000 in money and prizes he diverted from the state for personal use. Typical for those overwhelmed by their own power, Farmer acted heinously — creating jobs for friends (even a girlfriend), splurging on travel and gifts, and having state employees on the clock performing personal favors such as babysitting and building a basketball court.
That he did these things isn’t really in dispute. He wasn’t trying to get away with anything. During a life in which he’s been treated as if he were special since junior high, Farmer simply thought he was entitled to the perks. He doesn’t seem to be all that smart.
Farmer’s ego was so out of control after winning landslide elections for Ag Commissioner twice, he thought he could be an asset to an unpopular legislator (David Williams) in an election even though he was going through a messy divorce. The election tested, and found, the limits of his popularity with the people.
So now a federal grand jury in Lexington has indicted the 43-year-old Farmer on a bunch of charges that, theoretically, could put him in jail for the next four decades. Of course, that’s not gonna happen. Richie is expected to plead not guilty at his arraignment April 30 and will not be taken into custody.
I’m trying to imagine the statewide spectacle of a Richie Farmer trial. It would attract coverage comparable to Rick Pitino’s embarrassing interlude with extortionist Karen Sypher, except there would be more statewide interest. ESPN would surely send a reporter, as would dozens of media outlets devoted to UK sports. Local TV stations will examine Farmer’s life story, tracing his downfall back to his first jump shot. Someone will decide to do a movie.
But I still see it as unlikely that a trial will take place. Odds are Richie will take a plea to avoid trial, somehow coming up with the $450K and doing a little jail time at a cushy federal prison.
The real loser in the whole scenario is the taxpayer. Remember Judy Green. All she lost was her job, after taxpayers footed the bill for her legal expenses and a drawn-out trial that proved she abused her position to take care of family members. Despite evidence that she misused government funds, she didn’t have to pay anything back.
Richie’s case is another story. And that story will be the stuff of legend.