Former Mississippi governor Phil Bryant helped Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre obtain welfare funds to help build a volleyball center at the University of Southern Mississippi, according to an investigative report by Mississippi Today.
The texts allegedly show Favre, New and Bryant (R) conferring on how to divert at least $5 million for a volleyball stadium at Southern Miss, where Favre played college football and his daughter played volleyball at the time some texts were sent.
“If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?” a text showed Favre asked New in 2017. She replied that “we never have that information publicized” and told him the next day, “Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!”
In a July 2019 text, Bryant told New that he had just met with Favre and asked if she could help him.
An attorney for Favre denied that his client knew he had received welfare funds. “Brett Favre has been honorable throughout this whole thing,” Bud Holmes told Mississippi Today. In 2020, Favre told the outlet that he had not discussed the stadium, which is not part of the state’s lawsuit, with Bryant.
Favre and Bryant, who left office in January 2020, have not been criminally charged, and Bryant did not address the texts in a statement to Mississippi Today. In it, he accused New’s defense team of being “more concerned with pretrial publicity than they are with civil justice.” The motion filed by New is the defendants’ first direct and public accusation of wrongdoing by Bryant.
Favre last year repaid the state $600,000 he had received for speeches he never gave as part of a $1.1 million deal he made in 2017 and 2018 to promote a poverty-fighting initiative. The state auditor reported that he initially repaid $500,000 and in May the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed a lawsuit against Favre, saying interest on the $1.1 million amounted to $228,000.
States are prohibited from using money from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program on “brick and mortar” buildings and the effort to circumvent federal regulations to build the volleyball stadium has already resulted in a criminal conviction.
Zach New, Nancy New’s son, admitted in an April plea agreement to defrauding the government when he participated in a scheme “to disguise the USM construction project as a ‘lease’ as a means of circumventing the limited purpose grant’s strict prohibition against ‘brick and mortar’ construction projects in violation of Miss. Code Ann. 97-7-10.”
Favre briefly was questioned more than two years ago by the FBI, Mississippi Today reported last week. Holmes told the outlet that Favre was asked one question and he believes Favre has not been interviewed since. Mississippi Community Education Center hired Favre Enterprises in 2017 and 2018 to make appearances to promote Families First for Mississippi, a program designed to help needy families, and Favre was a no-show for those.
In 2020, the former NFL quarterback denied that he had “received moneys for obligations I didn’t meet,” saying, “I love Mississippi and I would never knowingly do anything to take away from those that need it most.”
Mississippi had the highest poverty rate in the nation, with 20.3 percent living below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey. The U.S. poverty rate nationally is 13.4 percent.