JACKSON, Miss. (Mississippi Today) — A representative for Brett Favre delivered a $600,000 check to the State Auditor’s Office Monday, the office confirmed Wednesday, a couple of weeks after the auditor demanded he repay the welfare funds he took from the state.
In 2017 and 2018, a nonprofit contracted to run then-Gov. Phil Bryant’s “family-stabilizing” initiative called Families First for Mississippi paid the NFL hall of fame quarterback $1.1 million in federal welfare money to promote the anti-poverty program.
Once the auditor uncovered the payments in May of 2020, Favre said he didn’t know the money came from a federal program intended to serve very poor families, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and promised to repay the funds. He paid $500,000 initially, the auditor’s office said, but had not returned the additional $600,000 more than a year later.
On Oct. 12, the auditor sent Favre a letter demanding he pay $828,000 — the $600,000 plus interest. Favre still owes the $282,000 in interest, the office said Wednesday.
“The sum demanded represents illegal expenditures of public funds made to you or to
entities or combines for which you are legally obligated to pay and/or the unlawful dispositions of public property, including public funds, made with you or with entities or combines for which you are legally responsible to pay,” the letter reads. “These illegal expenditures and unlawful dispositions were made when you knew or had reason to know through the exercise of reasonable diligence that the expenditures were illegal and/or the dispositions were unlawful.”
The payments Favre received are just a fraction of the $77 million in misspending that auditors have identified under the leadership of Bryant and his appointed director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services John Davis.
The welfare agency hired Mississippi Community Education Center and Family Resource Center of North Mississippi and funneled tens of millions of welfare dollars to the nonprofits to run Families First for Mississippi.
Under the initiative, Mississippi public and nonprofit officials used the welfare money on purchases such as a new volleyball stadium, a horse ranch for a famous athlete, multi-million dollar celebrity speaking engagements, high-tech virtual reality equipment, luxury vehicles, steakhouse dinners and even a speeding ticket, to name a few.
The federal government allows states to choose how much of its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant to spend on cash payments to poor families or on other social programs, and it was under virtually no requirement to report this detailed spending to the federal government.
Favre was one of more than two dozen individuals or organizations — including board members for two of the nonprofits that misspent most of the money — who received demand letters. These demands do not represent criminal allegations.
The office gave each recipient 30 days, until Oct. 11, to return the money before the auditor will turn the case over to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, which has the option to pursue civil litigation against the individuals or companies.
The Attorney General’s Office and the welfare agency have also hired their own counsel, former U.S. Attorney Brad Piggot, to pursue civil demands against the recipients in order to claw back as much of the misspent funds as possible. The department expects Piggot to file litigation in coming weeks.
Davis, who is awaiting trial for criminal charges related to the embezzlement scheme, received the largest demand of $96 million, the entire $77 million sum plus interest. Founder of Mississippi Community Education Center Nancy New and her son Zack New also await trial in the case. The nonprofit’s accountant Ann McGrew recently pleaded guilty.