Retired WWE wrestler Brett DiBiase pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States for his role in Mississippi’s massive welfare-fraud scandal. He could face up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
“I applaud our federal partners for continuing to pursue federal charges for each and every individual responsible for stealing from Mississippi’s most needy and vulnerable citizens,” Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “As I have said before, this case is far from over and both the state of Mississippi and the U.S. government will continue to pursue all those involved in this fraud, regardless of their position or standing.”
Owens, along with State Auditor Shad White, first brought the ongoing welfare scandal to light in early February 2020. Since then, the story has attracted wide state and local media coverage.
Prosecutors say that under former Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis, who pleaded guilty on state and federal charges in September 2022, the agency improperly doled out over $77 million in welfare funds for other purposes.
After DiBiase’s guilty plea Thursday, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White issued a statement in which he vowed to “continue to assist the prosecutors, who decide who face(s) criminal charges.”
Brett DiBiase was one of six people that state prosecutors arrested when news of the scandal first broke in February 2020, along with Davis and Nancy New, a nonprofit operator accused of using her nonprofit to funnel Temporary Assistance For Needy Family dollars toward illicit causes. New pleaded guilty to multiple charges last year. No one has served prison time to date.
Among numerous other allegations at the time of the arrests, Owens and White alleged that Davis and ex-MDHS employee Latimer Smith had “(manufactured) documents to enrich Brett DiBiase using TANF money” and paid DiBiase TANF funds “for teaching classes about drug abuse,” even though DiBiase was “in a luxury rehabilitation for his own drug use in California at the time and did not perform the services.”
Owens and White accused Nancy New and her son, Zach New, of using their nonprofit, the Mississippi Community Education Center, “to pay for DiBiase’s treatment using TANF funds.”
“At Davis’ direction, MCEC used TANF money received from DHS to pay for DiBiase’s opioid treatment at the Rise in Malibu facility. The documentation submitted by the News claimed this was to pay DiBiase for conducting training classes that never, in fact, took place.” Brett DiBiase later pleaded guilty to state charges of making false representations to defraud the government in December 2020.
Davis hired Brett DiBiase in 2017; he later began working at MCEC. State officials say that, during Davis’ tenure at MDHS, Brett DiBiase’s brother, Teddy DiBiase Jr., occupied one of the largest offices at the Mississippi Department of Human Services located next to the director’s own office—even though he was not on the payroll.
The State filed a civil suit last year seeking to recover millions of dollars in misspent TANF funds from dozens of individuals, including both DiBiase brothers and their father, Ted DiBiase Sr., who is also known as WWE’s “Million Dollar Man.” Prosecutors have not charged Ted DiBiase Sr. nor Teddy DiBiase Jr. with any crimes, but court documents say both improperly received funds that should have gone to the State’s poorest people.
In the civil suit, MDHS says it is seeking $1.9 million from Ted DiBiase Sr. and $1.7 million from his Christian ministry, Heart of David Ministries Inc.; $2.9 million from Teddy DiBiase Jr.; and $824,000 from Brett DiBiase for services he received payments for but did not perform.
Nancy New and others targeted in the civil suit, including retired NFL star quarterback Brett Favre, are challenging the State’s claims.