In May 2020, Mississippi’s state auditor reported that the Department of Human Services had wasted tens of millions of dollars in federal money that should have been used to help needy families.
Since then, the investigation into those misspent funds has included state officials, bureaucrats and famous sports figures, including retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Six people have faced criminal charges, and back-and-forth legal filings in an ongoing civil case have led to the release of open private text messages.
Here’s what we know about the welfare scandal, Favre’s role and where the case stands now.
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White announced in May 2020 that the Department of Human Services had wasted tens of millions of dollars in federal welfare grant funds through misappropriation, personal use and spending by family members, friends of employees and interns.
The eight-month investigation showed the department awarded more than $98 million to two nonprofits: the Mississippi Community Education Center and the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi. Of the $98 million, $94 million was “questionable,” meaning it was definitely misspent or auditors could not determine whether it was spent legally.
Most of the money came from Needy Families Temporary Assistance, a federal program that gives states grants that they must then use to help low-income families with children.
A follow-up audit by a Maryland accounting firm found that more than $77 million was misused from the state’s welfare program through nonprofits. including expensive cars, private school and celebrity and politically connected pet projects.
“Two years ago my office audited DHS,” White said in an October 2021 statement. “After two years of work, we found tens of millions of dollars in misspending. Those findings were confirmed this month by an independent forensic auditor commissioned by DHS. It’s time for taxpayers to try to recover what we lost.”
One of the recipients of those funds was Favre, the Hall of Fame quarterback and Mississippi native. According to the audit, the Mississippi Community Education Center was directly paid $1.1 million in TANF funds, the state auditor said, for promotional ads and speaking appearances that never happened.
Favre returned $500,000 in May 2020 and the remaining $600,000 in October 2021 after the state auditor sent a demand letter, according to the auditor’s office. But the auditor’s office says Favre still owes $228,000 in interest payments.
Favre said he was asking the state for money to build it A new volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he played football from 1987-90 and his daughter from 2017-2022. Mississippi Today, which has covered the scheme for several years, reported that at least $5 million in welfare funds went toward the new facility.
In a statement last week, Favre denied wrongdoing and said he had no idea the funding was supposed to go to needy families.
“Nobody ever told me, and I didn’t know, that funds designated for welfare recipients were going to the University or to me,” he said. “I tried to help my alma mater (University of Southern Mississippi), a public Mississippi state university, raise funds for a wellness center. My goal was and always will be to improve the sports facilities of my university.’
For inspections, six people have been accused of wrongdoing and five have pleaded guilty.
John Davis, 54, former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, pleaded guilty to two federal and 18 state charges.
Nancy New, founder of the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center, pleaded guilty to bribery, fraud, mail fraud and racketeering.
Zach New, her son and the center’s assistant executive director, pleaded guilty to bribery, fraud and mail fraud.
An accountant at the center, Anne McGrew, pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Brett DiBiase, a former pro wrestler who received family funds for fake jobs, pleaded guilty to making fraudulent statements.
In addition, the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed a civil suit More than 35 individuals and entities, including Favre and the Mississippi Community Education Center, to recover some of the funds.
That lawsuit and ongoing legal filings have revealed several private text messages between Favre, former Gov. Phil Bryant and others involved.
For example, in an August 2017 interview, Favre wrote to Nancy New, founder of the nonprofit MCEC, about her concerns about media publicity.
“If I were to pay, is there any media where it comes from and how much it is? Favre wrote.
“No, we’ve never disclosed that information,” Newk said.
The next day, New texted Favre with an update: “Wow, I just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He’s with us! We’re going to make it!”.
Other texts show that Bryant worked to help Favre get the funds.
“I just left Brett Farve (sic). Can we help him with his project,” Bryant wrote to New in a July 2019 message. “We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects on track.”
Those texts were included in New’s legal filing as part of a motion to compel Bryant to produce more documents. In a statement, Bryant’s attorney, William M. Quin II, said the documents are privileged.
“Cases should be tried in court, where the rules of evidence are governed and privilege is respected. They should not be tried in the press, where innuendo and speculation are sometimes mixed with actual facts. New’s lawyer seems to prefer to try his client’s case in the latter rather than the former.” .
Other text messages from July 2019 show that Favre texted Bryant several times asking if the volleyball complex would be funded. Bryant noted that proper approval was required.
“The use of these funds is strictly controlled. Any improper use could result in a violation of Federal Law,” Bryant emailed Favre on July 28, 2019, according to the filing.
“As soon as we get approval we can move forward. Any expenditure without this approval could be illegal and Nancy and USM can return all monies spent to the Federal Government,” the then governor added, according to the file.
Favre, however, continued to press the governor, sending messages again on September 4, 2019, about the need to fund the facility.
“We need your help, and time is working against us. And we think your name is the perfect choice for this facility, and we’re not taking no for an answer! You’re a Southern Miss alumnus, and people need to know you’re a supporter of the university, too.” , Favre wrote to the governor, according to the file.
Bryant replied, “We’ll get there. This was a great meeting. But we have to follow the law. I’m too old for Federal Prison. (smile, sunglasses emoji),” according to the filing.