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Brett Favre to repay welfare money for appearances he didn’t make, Mississippi auditor says

Brett Favre received $1.1 million in welfare funds from a nonprofit group, a Mississippi state audit shows. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre has begun repayment of $1.1 million he received from a fund intended to help needy Mississippi residents, a state auditor said Wednesday, and Favre tweeted Wednesday night that he “never received monies for obligations I didn’t meet” and added, “I love Mississippi and I would never knowingly do anything to take away from those that need it most.”

Favre was paid for speaking engagements for which he did not appear, according to a state audit that revealed Monday an alleged multimillion-dollar welfare fraud scheme. Mississippi State Auditor Shad White said Wednesday that there were no indications the former Green Bay Packers great was aware the money he received came from that fund.

The audit resulted in a report claiming Mississippi’s Department of Human Services oversaw more than $94 million that went into two nonprofit organizations that spent it suspiciously. It was released months after a former DHS director and five others were indicted on state charges of embezzling about $4 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

“If there was a way to misspend money, it seems DHS leadership or their grantees thought of it and tried it,” White said Monday (via the Clarion Ledger and the Associated Press). White added that the audit “shows the most egregious misspending my staff have seen in their careers at the Office of the State Auditor.”

Favre, a Mississippi native and resident, does not face criminal charges, and the payments to him are what the audit refers to as “questioned” costs because, according to White, “auditors either saw clear misspending or could not verify the money had been lawfully spent.”

Favre Enterprises, according to the audit, received payments of $500,000 in December 2017 and $600,000 in June 2018 for three speeches from the Mississippi Community Education Center, one of the nonprofit groups with contracts with the DHS to spend money through the TANF. “[Upon] a cursory review of those dates, auditors were able to determine that the individual contracted did not speak nor was he present for those events,” the audit states, adding that the amount was “unreasonable.”

On Wednesday, White said on Twitter that his office had received $500,000 from Favre, along with “a commitment to repay the remainder in installments over the next few months.” The money will eventually be redirected to “TANF-appropriate expenditures,” White said.

“I want to applaud Mr. Favre for his good faith effort to make this right and make the taxpayers and TANF families whole,” he added. “To date, we have seen no records indicating Mr. Favre knew that TANF was the program that served as the source of the money he was paid.”

Favre issued his first comments later Wednesday.

“My agent is often approached by different products and brands for me to appear in one way or another,” Favre wrote in a series of tweets. "This request was no different, and I did numerous ads for Families First. I have never received monies for obligations I didn’t meet. To reiterate Auditors White’s statement, I was unaware that the money being dispersed was paid for out of funds not intended for that purpose, and because of that I am refunding the full amount back to Mississippi.

“I have spent my entire career helping children through Favre 4 Hope donating nearly $10 million to underserved and underprivileged children in Mississippi and Wisconsin. It has brought a ton of joy to my life, and I would certainly never do anything to take away from the children I have fought to help! I love Mississippi and I would never knowingly do anything to take away from those that need it most.”

The audit also stated that the MCEC spent $1.3 million for three 12-week fitness boot camps conducted by a group called Victory Sports Foundation, and White said some participants paid but were not screened for TANF eligibility. According to the audit, state legislators and other elected officials took the fitness classes free. White added that the nonprofit group, and not the participants, is responsible for the spending at issue. Paul Lacoste, who runs Victory, said he did not know he was receiving welfare money, according to the Clarion Ledger.

Also receiving funds were former pro wrestler Ted DiBiase and his sons, Ted Jr. and Brett, for work that the audit says was never done and for “unreasonable” travel costs.

Among those facing charges are John Davis, the DHS director from January 2016 to July 2019, and Nancy New, the MCEC leader. The Clarion Ledger and other outlets have been reporting on the DHS and MCEC for months, but the scope of the misspending only came to light with Monday’s audit, which also showed a second nonprofit, the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, made many questionable or allegedly inappropriate expenditures using welfare cash.

Officials alleged Davis limited outside monitoring of welfare grants, “unilaterally” controlling much of the money himself, according to Stephanie Palmertree, an auditor who helped compile the report. Auditors say that, among other things, they uncovered forged documents, a limited or nonexistent process for vetting contracts, and fraudulent accounting.

The audit will be sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, White said, and federal officials will decide whether to sanction the state.

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