Speed Reads

Welfare cheats

Texts tie ex-Mississippi governor to Brett Favre's welfare-funded USM volleyball arena

Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre worked with a politically connected Mississippi nonprofit to siphon more than $5 million in federal welfare funds to build a volleyball arena at Favre's alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi — and newly released text messages implicate former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) in the project, Mississippi Today reported Tuesday. The volleyball arena was the single largest known expenditure in Mississippi's largest-ever public fraud case, as laid out by former state auditor Shad White (R). 

At the heart of the $77 million welfare fraud scandal is Nancy New, a friend of Bryant's wife and founder of the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center. New's nonprofit "was in charge of spending tens of millions of flexible federal welfare dollars outside of public view," Mississippi Today reports. She has pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts relating to the scheme and is cooperating with prosecutors. Former Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) director John Davis pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

The new text messages, released in a court filing Monday by a lawyer for New's nonprofit, "show that Bryant, Favre, New, Davis and others worked together" to funnel $5 million in welfare funds to build the arena at USM, where Favre's daughter was playing volleyball, Mississippi Today's Anna Wolfe reports. Bryant "even guided Favre on how to write a funding proposal so that it could be accepted by the Mississippi Department of Human Services."

Favre's lawyer said the quarterback never understood the funds were coming from programs meant to help the poor, and he told NBC News that Favre has been questioned by the FBI in a parallel federal case in to the Mississippi welfare scandal. Neither Bryant or Favre have been accused of criminal wrongdoing.

Along with the federal investigation and state criminal case, Mississippi is trying to claw back $28 million from Favre and 37 other people and organizations involved in the welfare payouts. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) and MDHS fired the lawyer overseeing that case, Brad Pigott, in July after he subpoenaed information on Bryant and Favre's role in the volleyball project. Earlier this year, Pigott also authenticated text messages showing that Favre sought $3.2 million in welfare grants for a drug company in which he was a shareholder, and suggested giving shares to Bryant, too. 

Read more about the case and text messages at Mississippi Today.