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Brett Favre Sues Mississippi Auditor Shad White, Alleging Defamation Over Welfare Scandal

Side by Side of Mississippi State Auditor Shad White and retired football player Brett Favre
Retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, right, filed a lawsuit against Mississippi State Auditor Shad White, left, on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, accusing the auditor of "defamation" for remarks he made about Favre and Mississippi's $77 million welfare scandal. Photo courtesy Shad White / AP Photo/Matt Ludtke, File

Retired NFL star Brett Favre is suing Mississippi State Auditor Shad White, accusing the Republican official of defamation over comments he made related to Favre’s role in Mississippi’s ongoing welfare scandal.

“Shad White, the State Auditor of Mississippi, has carried out an outrageous media campaign of malicious and false accusations against Brett Favre—the Hall of Fame quarterback and native son of Mississippi—in a brazen attempt to leverage the media attention generated by Favre’s celebrity to further his own political career,” the lawsuit says. “By shamelessly and falsely attacking Favre’s good name, White has gained national media attention he previously could have only dreamed of, including appearances on television shows on CNN and HBO, a popular ESPN podcast, as well as interviews for print and online media. None of these national media outlets would have paid White the slightest attention had he not been attacking Favre. White himself acknowledged this, admitting that his own wife was ‘shocked’ by his appearance on the ESPN Daily Podcast.”

a screenshot of a document
Click here to read Brett Favre’s complaint.

“In his media appearances, White has made egregiously false and defamatory statements accusing Favre of ‘steal[ing] taxpayer funds’ and knowingly misusing funds ‘designed to serve poor folks,'” the lawsuit continues. “There is no basis for these offensive falsehoods, which White made knowing that they were false or, at a minimum, with reckless disregard for the fact that they were false.”

In a statement to the Mississippi Free Press in response to the news on Thursday, which The Daily Mail first reported, White denied the allegations.

“Everything Auditor White has said about this case is true and is backed by years of audit work by the professionals at the Office of the State Auditor,” the auditor said. “It’s mind-boggling that Mr. Favre wants to have a trial about that question. Mr. Favre has called Auditor White and his team liars despite repaying some of the money our office demanded from him. He’s also claimed the auditors are liars despite clear documentary evidence showing he benefitted from misspent funds. Instead of paying New York litigators to try this case, he’d be better off fully repaying the amount of welfare funds he owes the state.”

White investigated the welfare scandal, which saw $77 million in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families funds diverted to improper uses. Favre received $1.1 million in TANF funds to record promotional material for a nonprofit in 2017. Thursday’s lawsuit claims “Favre voluntarily repaid all the funds,” but while he did pay back $500,000 in May 2020 after news of the welfare scandal broke, the sports celebrity did not pay the remaining $600,000 until after White issued a demand letter for it in late 2021. Favre did not pay back an additional $228,000 in interest the auditor demanded and is now a target of the state’s sweeping civil lawsuit over the welfare scandal.

More than $5 million in TANF funds also went to fund a volleyball stadium that Favre wanted at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi. The retired NFL star has said he did not know any of the funds he received or that went to volleyball stadium came from welfare funds. He has denied all wrongdoing, and prosecutors have not charged him with a crime. The lawsuit cites multiple comments White made during media appearances.

“We know that Mr. Favre not only knew that he was receiving money from this non-profit which was funded by taxpayer dollars,” the filing cites White telling CNN’s Kate Bolduan during an interview on Sept. 15, 2022. “We know that the funding for that was a sham, and we know that he knows that too.”

Favre filed separate lawsuits on Thursday against national sports commentators Shannon Sharpe and Pat McAfee for remarks they made regarding allegations about former Green Bay Packers quarterback. On “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed,” Sharpe said of Favre, “You really have to be a sorry mofo to steal from the lowest of the low.” The suit against McAfee alleges he called Favre a “thief” who stole “from poor people in Mississippi” during a podcast.

After text messages between Favre, state officials and an indicted nonprofit leader charged with crimes in the welfare scandal became public last fall, the retired quarterback hired hired Austin, Texas, attorney Eric D. Herschmann to represent him. The lawsuit lists Herschmann, who once represented former President Donald Trump, among Favre’s counsel, alongside Michael J. Shemper of Hattiesburg; James Robert Sullivan, Jr., of Laurel; and Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP of New York.

In the filing, Favre’s lawyers argue that White has previously “sought to advance his political career by defaming private citizens.”

“The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office is defending him in another lawsuit, one brought three years ago by a University of Mississippi faculty member, who alleges that White, to further his political career, defamed him in interviews and public statements,” the lawsuit alleges.

In December 2020, James M. Thomas, a University of Mississippi sociology professor, sued Mississippi State Auditor Shad White for accusing him of violating state law by participating in the anti-racism “#ScholasStrikes.” Photo courtesy James Thomas

In 2020, White investigated James M. Thomas, a University of Mississippi sociology professor, for participating in the anti-racism “#ScholarStrike” and publicly accused him of violating a state law prohibiting employee strikes. Thomas sued the auditor for defamation in December 2020.

“Not only is this a waste of Mississippi’s resources and taxpayers’ money, but as White well knows, the court in that lawsuit flatly rejected his argument that his government position—his job was to audit the spending of the very funds he has been falsely defaming Favre about—afforded him immunity from the lawsuit, because his governmental duties do not include defaming private citizens,” Favre’s lawsuit says. “Unfortunately, White did not learn his lesson.”

The complaint calls for “nominal and general damages from White, in his individual capacity” along with “actual or special damages from White.”

“Favre also seeks punitive and exemplary damages in order to punish and deter the outrageous conduct taken in heedless and reckless disregard for Favre’s reputation as a result of White’s conscious indifference in harming his reputation,” the lawsuit says. “Favre does not seek the payment of any taxpayer money.”

You can view our our timeline of events for the volleyball saga that tells the story through dozens of text messages, documents and images. Click here to see our #MSWelfareScandal archive dating back to February 2020.

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