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.
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.”
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.