Richie Farmer, the UK basketball legend and former Agriculture Commissioner, will appear in federal court in Frankfort on Tuesday for sentencing by U.S. District Judge Greg F. Van Tatenhove. This assuming that Judge Van Tatenhove elects to accept the plea agreement between Farmer and the United States, which as noted in an earlier post, Richie Farmer's Plea Agreement, he has not yet done but is expected to do.
The Lexington Herald-Leader has reported that the federal prosecutors are urging a sentence of 27 months for Farmer, Feds Want 27 Months In Prison for Richie Farmer, while he is asking for only 21 months, six months less: Farmer's Attorney Seeks 21 Months In Prison.
Here's what can be gathered from and where the government and Farmer are coming from with their sentencing arguments:
- Farmer and the United States entered what is referred to as a "binding plea agreement" that fixed the range of jail time that the judge could impose at 21 – 27 months. If the judge accepts the plea agreement, he likewise accepts this sentencing range. So Farmer is arguing his sentence should be at the low end, and the government is arguing it should be at the high end.You can read Farmer's plea agreement here.
- The federal probation office has apparently determined that the sentencing range for Farmer under the United States Sentencing Guidelines should be 27 – 33 months. It also appears that the probation officer determined that Farmer's conduct caused a total loss to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture of $230,123.35 instead of only $120,000 as stated in the plea agreement.
- the government bases its argument that Farmer should get a sentence of 27 months mainly on two points.
(1) Farmer's fame and notoriety won as a basketball star:
"Of special note here is the defendant's storybook basketball career, which garnered him the goodwill and adoration of thousands of Kentucky citizens. While some might extend leniency and preferential treatment to the defendant on this basis, the United States believes this is actually an aggravating factor. It probably was the public's adoration that engendered in the defendant what appears to have been a profound sense of entitlement. The defendant's athletic success provided the platform form from which he could obtain the very office that he abused. Seen from that perspective, the goodwill was squandered in the public betrayed."
(2) The need to deter other public officials who might be similarly tempted in an age of government austerity, sequestration and furloughs:
"There is a compelling need for the sentence here to reflect the seriousness of the offense and to provide just punishment. In these times of government austerity, belt-tightening, furloughs and layoffs, there can be no tolerance for public officials who cavalierly waste and misuse public resources."
- Farmer, for his part, claims that he has learned his lesson and been humbled:
"The government says that the 'public's adoration' of Richie 'engendered in the defendant what appears to have been a profound sense of entitlement.' Maybe so. It is a fair observation that because he was blessed with so much, more was expected from him. That being said, the government's use of the past participle 'been' – 'what appears to have been a profound sense of entitlement' – is accurate. Given the events of the past year, any such 'sense of entitlement' is in the past – gone. The lessons available for learning have been learned."
- Farmer also makes an interesting argument regarding the deterrent effect of a 27 month sentence as urged by the government:
"Whether prosecuted or not, it would ignore reality to suggest that this is a first for such conduct by an elected, or appointed, state official. On a daily basis state employees use their time, or their time is used by others, in questionable ways. But clearly, a significant point to be made by the prosecution of this case – and the sentence imposed by this Court – is that such questionable conduct should stop. So, the question becomes, what sentence is necessary to make this point? The government agrees that a sentence in the range of 21 to 27 months makes the point. It urges 27 months. But it is difficult to imagine that a sentence of 27 months has any greater deterrent effect than does a sentence of 21 months. State officials who, like Richie Farmer, are persons of good reputation and no criminal history will certainly be deterred by the mere fact of this prosecution, much less a prison sentence of 21 months. The extra six months the government seeks only serves to further punish the Farmer children - it does nothing for Richie or for the good of deterrence."
My own view is that I agree in part with both the government and Farmer. Richie Farmer did ride his celebrity drawn from his basketball days to win the office of Agriculture Commissioner, one for which he had no qualifications or experience. He surely wasn't the first elected official to help out his buddies once in office or to help himself to the perks and spoils of the office. But it doesn't seem conceivable that he acted out of mendacity or that he is a George Washington Plunkitt-type character (Plunkitt, a Tammany Hall hack famous for his statement: "I seen my chances, and I took 'em."). Farmer should not have kept the $19,500 in guns and equipment that was bought for a conference and left over; that's clearly wrong. But as far as the jobs he got for his friends go, there is no claim that they didn't do any work to earn their pay, the plea agreement simply states that they did not "fully earn" their pay, which means they did some work it would appear and how much is enough could be the source of endless argument and, it would seem as I've argued elsewhere, In Farmer Case, We Could Push Law So Far As To Criminalize Politics, a poor basis for criminal prosecution. Aside from all that, the certainty or likelihood of punishment rather than its length is the greatest deterrent, and six more months in jail for Richie Farmer, a disgraced, humbled and reportedly broke man with three children to raise, does not make it more certain or even probable that any other wrongdoer will be punished.
Lexington criminal defense lawyer Robert Abell represents clients in federal and state courts throughout Kentucky.