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Rep. Thompson Asks DOJ To Investigate Ex-Gov. Bryant For Favre TANF Payments

a photo shows Bennie Thompson standing at a podium with Phil Bryant to his right looking up at him
U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, right, has called for an investigation into former Gov. Phil Bryant, left, for his alleged role in the Mississippi's welfare fraud scandal and into whether or not he directed welfare money to retired NFL player Brett Favre. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate allegations that former Gov. Phil Bryant may have directed funds meant for needy families to ineligible individuals, including retired NFL football star Brett Favre.

“In 2018, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) received $135 million in TANF dollars, yet $77 million of those dollars were misdirected due to the influence of the governor’s office,” Thompson said in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday. “… Governor Phil Bryant has clearly taken actions consistent with ensuring Mississippi’s poorest citizens are denied welfare funds meant to benefit their households.”

In May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services sued 38 people, including NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre and retired WWE Wrestler Ted DiBiase Sr., in an effort to recoup millions in misspent welfare funds that should have gone to needy families. 

Since 2020, Mississippi prosecutors have charged six people in a sprawling welfare fraud scandal, including John Davis, who served as the Mississippi Department of Human Services director under Bryant. He faces 20 felony counts for his role in authorizing over $77 million in illegal TANF spending through non-profits run by Nancy New, who allegedly funneled the funds to wealthy individuals like Favre and retired WWE wrestler Ted DiBiase Sr. (also known as “The Million Dollar Man”) through the Mississippi Community Education Center for speeches the state auditor says they never gave.

a photo of Brett Favre with Tate Reeves and Phil Bryant
Former NFL star Brett Favre, seen here with then-Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, center, and then-Gov. Phil Bryant, right, in 2019, received $1.1 million in funds that should have gone to help Mississippi’s neediest families. In a court filing, Nancy New alleged that former Gov. Bryant directed the money to Favre through her non-profit. Photo Tate Reeves/Twitter

Nancy New and her son, Zach New, have accepted a plea deal and pled guilty to multiple criminal charges, including bribery and fraud. In a July 12 court filing first reported by Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe, the elder New alleged that “Governor Phil Bryant directed Defendant (New) to provide funds to Brett Favre, and Defendant caused MCEC to contract with Favre Enterprises, Inc. in the amount of $1,100,000 in consideration for Favre speaking at events, keynote speaking, radio and promotional events, and business partner development.” 

Favre vowed to repay the funds after the scandal broke in 2020. He paid back $500,000 in May 2020, but did not make another payment until State Auditor Shad White issued a demand for $828,000 more in October 2021. Favre paid back $600,000, declining to pay $228,000 in interest, and White referred Favre and others who had not repaid to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

“This gross misuse of TANF dollars must illicit a review of former Governor Phil Bryant’s involvement,” Rep. Thompson said in his letter to the Department of Justice. “Such an investigation should also examine the intolerable activity of retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and how his actions were aided by Governor Bryant. I urge you to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a federal investigation into the Mississippi TANF embezzlement scheme that centers around the role of former Governor Phil Bryant. The people of Mississippi deserve answers, and accountability for breaking the law must be upheld for all who were involved: especially for Governor Bryant.”

Nancy New shakes hands with Phil Bryant while John Davis stands behind them
Prosecutors say New Learning Resources founder Nancy New, left, and former Mississippi Department of Human Services head John Davis, center, were involved in a “sprawling conspiracy” to embezzle money from DHS. Before the indictments, the News maintained close relationships with state political leaders, including former Gov. Phil Bryant, right, and donated thousands to state leaders’ campaigns. Photo courtesy Families First for Mississippi

Bryant served as the state’s Republican governor from 2012 to 2020. During his tenure, he focused on conservative policies, including signing the abortion ban at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which led to the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June. He also courted controversy for his involvement with British politicians who led the 2016 “Brexit” movement.

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