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Brett Favre texts show his role in Mississippi welfare scandal

Newly released text messages from NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre show he was far more involved than previously known in pushing for millions of federal welfare dollars to be diverted from helping families poor to pay for a new volleyball facility at the school where her daughter played. sports.

Messages released in a court filing this week also reveal that Favre sought assurances from a nonprofit executive that the public would never find out he was seeking millions of dollars in grants that ultimately came from Mississippi’s welfare agency.

Favre has said publicly that he did not know the funds were welfare dollars and that he believes he did nothing wrong. He paid back $1.1 million given to him directly, but the state auditor says he still owes $228,000 in interest.

For more, watch “NBC News with Lester Holt” tonight.

Brett Favre presents at the NFL Honors Show on February 10, 2022 in Inglewood, California.File by Michael Owens/Getty Images

NBC News was first to report that the FBI has questioned Favre on the matter, but there is no indication that Favre is a target of the FBI’s criminal investigation.

In July, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D.-Miss., asked the Justice Department to investigate the role played by Favre and the former governor. Phil Bryant was involved in the growing welfare scandal.

Favre’s attorney, Bud Holmes, told NBC News that Favre had been “fully honorable in everything” and that there was nothing extraordinary about the newly released texts.

The welfare funds in question were part of the $86 million the federal government gives Mississippi each year to lift families out of poverty. Mississippi is the poorest state in the country, with nearly 200,000 children living below the poverty line.

the text messages were first reported by Mississippi Today and came to light Monday through court filings in a civil case fueled by the largest public spending scandal in state history. The state auditor discovered $77 million in wasted welfare funds in February 2020. The state filed a civil lawsuit against 38 defendants.

According to text messages and court documents, the idea of ​​diverting funds to volleyball facilities appears to have been discussed in a July 2017 meeting that included Favre, John Davis, the director of Mississippi’s welfare agency (known as the Department of Human Services, DHS). ), and Nancy New, whose charity was receiving millions in grants from the state agency. New, Davis and Favre are the defendants in the state’s civil lawsuit.

The text messages, which were part of a presentation by New’s attorney, do not establish that Favre knew the public funds discussed were welfare money.

The volleyball facility, now completed, is located at the University of Southern Mississippi, Favre’s alma mater.

The newly released text messages indicate that Bryant, a Republican, was much more involved in the project as governor than previously known. The texts suggest that he actively worked to secure financing from Favre. On July 16, 2019, he texted New that he had just gotten out of a meeting with Favre and wrote, “Can we help you with his project?”

An attorney for Davis declined to comment. Davis has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery and conspiracy.

New’s nonprofit was supposed to focus on running programs to help families in poverty. But Nuevos allege in court documents that Davis and Bryant ordered him to squander millions of welfare funds by distributing them to Davis’s friends and family, as well as former professional wrestlers and Favre.

After the July 2017 meeting, Favre thanked New for the facility’s first financial installment. “Nancy thanks again!!! John [Davis] I mentioned 4 million and I’m not sure if I heard that right. It’s a big deal and I can’t thank you enough.”

Four million dollars was not enough to complete the project. And to get the remaining money that was needed, the texts indicate that Favre and New devised a plan. It would pay Favre $1.1 million in state funds directly and he would do some radio ads. He then said that he would give the money to the volleyball project.

“I might record some radio announcements here initially. I’m safe right here. See how it is received and what compensation could go to USM,” Favre wrote.

New jokingly responded by suggesting the “4 million dollars” compensation with three smiley face emojis, “Just kidding,” he texted. “The first phase could cost $500,000 and after September we can renew. This is a good approach. What do you think?”

Favre responded, “I was thinking this is the way to do it!”

New offered his son Zach New to draw up a contract for Favre.

New and his son pleaded guilty to state charges of wasting public money that was supposed to be spent on poverty-stricken Mississippians.

Over the course of the next two years, as Favre communicated with New, text messages showed that he had some concerns about the arrangement.

At first he worried that he was too busy to do the radio announcements. “My biggest concern is the time commitment so we can manage that I’m fine.”

New responded, “Please don’t worry about your time commitment. We can only imagine in how many directions you are drawn. Just a few things here and there, spread out, will suffice.”

At one point, Favre worries that the state’s payment to him will be made public.

“If you were to pay me, can the media still find out where it came from and how much?”

“No, we never publish that information,” Nancy replied. “However, I understand that you are uneasy about it.”

In August, New confirmed that the then-governor supported him. “Wow, I just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He agrees to this, we’ll do it!

A few months later, in December 2017, Favre received the money from New and sent him a text. “Nancy Santa came by today and left some money,” she wrote, adding two smiley faces. “Thank you, my God, thank you. We need to set up the promotion soon. Your way to the child.”

By March 2018, construction costs for the volleyball facility were rising, and Favre seemed worried that the project would run out of money. He shared his concern with New via text message.

A year later he asked again, “Nancy, are you still sure you can cover the $1.8 and that figure will probably get lower as we get closer?”

New responded: “In a meeting with John Davis now. He said we’ll cover a lot of it, but it may have to be in a couple of payments. We’re on board!”

Often, text messages show, Favre strategized with New on how to ensure the money was provided and how to get the governor to commit more funds. Would a phone call to the governor help? meeting? A message? Favre texted New that he was asking the governor about the funds “on a weekly basis.”

Favre said he didn’t know the money was from welfare. However, the text messages show that he understood the flow of money between the governor, New and Davis, the head of the state welfare agency, DHS, which is dedicated to improving the lives of poor children and families in the state. .

Favre also appears to have gotten to know both New and Davis well, at one point in 2019 texting, with more smiley faces, “I love John so much, and you too.”

At one point when Davis left DHS, Favre texted New: “Any word? Do you already know the new director?

In a statement about the published texts, addressed to an attorney for Bryant, Billy Quin, said the former governor had agreed to submit the texts “even though he is not a party to the lawsuit” and had requested that New’s attorney “accept a protective order that would allow [texts] to be used in court with certain reasonable restrictions”.

Bryant’s attorney said the cases should be tried in court, not in the press. “It appears that New’s attorney prefers to try his client’s case in the latter rather than the former.”

When asked about Favre’s expressed concern that the public would find out he was receiving state grant money, Favre’s attorney, Bud Holmes, said Favre “just didn’t need the publicity” and thought “it would look wrong to receive money from a program. ”

Holmes said Favre originally offered to make public appearances for free, but Nancy New, who ran the nonprofit that handed out the welfare grants, “kept saying she had a budget.”

Holmes said that Favre did not know the funds came from the federal welfare program. “He didn’t understand where the grants were coming from,” Holmes said. “He had no ideas.”

When asked why Favre, who was paid an estimated $140 million during his NFL career, didn’t just donate money to the volleyball facility, Holmes said, “He did donate a good amount, but that’s the way it is with the rich people. They raise money.”

Holmes added that comedian Jerry Lewis didn’t just donate money for his popular muscular dystrophy telethons, he “raised it.”

Holmes, who previously acknowledged that Favre had been interviewed by the FBI, said he has not been contacted recently by federal investigators.

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