Prosecutors: Former Lawrence mayor should go to prison and pay $80K for stealing from food bank

Former Lawrence Mayor Jeremy Farmer enters the Frank Carlson Federal Building on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, in Topeka. Farmer was appearing on a charge of embezzling funds during his time as the executive director of Just Food.

Ex-Lawrence mayor Jeremy Farmer should not only pay more than $80,000 in restitution, but should also spend 10 months in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argues in a new court filing.

A federal judge is scheduled to sentence Farmer on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., for embezzling funds from Just Food, the Lawrence food bank he formerly led.

Last week Farmer requested a lighter penalty than what sentencing guidelines demand for his crime, asking for probation instead of prison. In that court motion Farmer’s attorney, John Cowles, cited Farmer’s cooperation with law enforcement, his guilty plea, his lack of criminal record, his good behavior while on pre-trial release and his maintenance of a steady job to earn money toward paying restitution in the case.

This week, prosecutors opposed that, saying Farmer deserves prison time in addition to a hefty restitution payment.

“That he was a public figure, the mayor of Lawrence at the time he committed his crime, coupled with the fact that his crime was committed against a charitable institution warrants a sentence of imprisonment,” according to the document filed Tuesday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway. “A sentence of no incarceration would fail to take into account punishment and deterrence. The government recommends, as it agreed to do, a sentence of 10 months in prison, no fine and restitution in the amount of $81,446.57.”

By signing the plea agreement, Farmer already received a reduction in his sentencing range for accepting responsibility plus “substantial benefit by not having the stigma of being indicted,” Hathaway wrote.

Farmer was charged in August 2016 and pleaded guilty the following month to interstate transportation of embezzled funds and securities, a felony, according to his plea agreement.

Farmer admitted to embezzling by fraud more than $5,000 from Just Food from 2013 until he resigned in August 2015, and concealing it by “adjusting” QuickBooks entries and financial statements provided to the Just Food board.

Farmer was hired as executive director of Just Food in 2011. Voters elected Farmer to the Lawrence City Commission in April 2013, and fellow commissioners unanimously voted him to become mayor of Lawrence in April 2015.

Farmer resigned from Just Food on Aug. 10, 2015, and also resigned as the city’s mayor days later.

A month later, representatives of the Just Food board alleged that an examination of their financial records showed Farmer made unauthorized payments to himself of more than $52,000 in salary and benefits over a two-year period. The alleged overpayments were in addition to more than $61,000 in federal and state payroll taxes that went unpaid while Farmer served as the executive director, Just Food said.