The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Brett Favre says he has ‘done nothing wrong’ in Mississippi welfare scandal

With his name linked to a Mississippi welfare scandal, Brett Favre said in a statement, “I have done nothing wrong,” (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Brett Favre denied wrongdoing in the Mississippi welfare scandal, speaking out for the first time on the controversy in a statement to Fox News Digital, saying, “I have done nothing wrong and it is past time to set the record straight.” He added that he has “been unjustly smeared in the media.”

Favre has been embroiled in Mississippi’s largest public corruption case, one in which tens of millions of dollars earmarked for needy families was misspent. He faces no criminal charges, but his alleged involvement has helped bring the case to broader national attention and cost him endorsement deals.

Favre received $1.1 million intended for welfare recipients in exchange for speeches and appearances the state auditor says he never made. And text messages included in court filings last month showed Favre was heavily involved in discussions that resulted in $5 million in welfare money going toward construction of a volleyball facility at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, where his daughter played the sport. Favre later repaid the $1.1 million, but $228,000 in interest remains in dispute.

Brett Favre is the face of a scandal, but Mississippi’s issues go deeper

The money for the appearances and volleyball facility was channeled through a nonprofit called Mississippi Community Education Center run by Nancy New and her son, Zach, who have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with investigators. John Davis, the former head of the state’s Department of Human Services, pleaded guilty Sept. 22 to federal counts of conspiracy and theft and state counts of conspiracy and fraud against the government and has agreed to testify against others.

“No one ever told me, and I did not know, that funds designated for welfare recipients were going to the University or me. I tried to help my alma mater USM, a public Mississippi state university, raise funds for a wellness center,” Favre’s statement read. “My goal was and always will be to improve the athletic facilities at my university.

“State agencies provided the funds to Nancy New’s charity, the Mississippi Community Education Center, which then gave the funds to the University, all with the full knowledge and approval of other State agencies, including the statewide Institute for Higher Learning, the Governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office. I was told that the legal work to ensure that these funds could be accepted by the university was done by State attorneys and State employees.”

The office of state auditor Shad White discovered the misspending and fraud and told Fox News Digital that a grant approved by an attorney in the office for the court used incorrect analysis.

“The volleyball court needed to be used to benefit the needy in Hattiesburg,” White said. “And fast-forward to today, what we know now is that the volleyball court has not been used to benefit the needy. So, this is an unallowable use of [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] funds for a few different reasons. And for those reasons, it doesn’t matter that the attorney signed off on this. What matters is that it simply is not an allowable use of TANF funds, and it’s our job in the auditor’s office to point that out when we see it.”

Funds from TANF must not be used for “bricks and mortar” projects, and White told Fox that there is no proof Favre knew that the money was coming from TANF. However, White said Favre did know the money was coming from programs “geared toward helping the poor.”

“Based on the documents that have come out publicly, mainly through filings in the civil case, we can see text messages that show that Mr. Favre knew that the money that was being paid out was coming from John Davis, who is the head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, and also coming from the nonprofit that was receiving money from DHS,” White told Fox News Digital. “So, he knows that it’s government money basically, and he knows that the money is coming from the Department of Human Services.”

According to the U.S. Census, one in five people in Mississippi lives in poverty — the highest rate in the nation — including 28 percent of children. Money from the federal government is given to states to distribute to families through TANF.

In May 2020, Favre tweeted that he had “never received monies for obligations I didn’t meet” and “was unaware that the money being dispersed was paid for out of funds not intended for that purpose.” But court filings last month suggested he had at least some awareness of where the money was coming from. Filings also suggested he continually pressed state officials for money to pay for the volleyball facility. “We obviously need your help big time and time is working against us,” Favre texted Gov. Phil Bryant (R) on Sept. 4, 2019. “And we feel that your name is the perfect choice for this facility and we are not taking No for an answer!”

“We are going to get there,” the then-governor responded. “This was a great meeting. But we have to follow the law. I am [too] old for Federal Prison.”

Favre previously told Mississippi Today that he had not discussed the volleyball facility project with Bryant.