Long before Prevacus became embroiled in Mississippi’s massive welfare fraud scandal, the drug company’s founder Jake VanLandingham and retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre sought the Trump White House’s help to fund its efforts to launch a new concussion drug, text messages former Gov. Phil Bryant released Thursday show.
The ex-governor released the texts in response to a court filing related to the ongoing investigation of misappropriated federal welfare funds in which three Mississippi media outlets, including this one, argued the public has a right to see them. Bryant’s attorney Billy Quin told the Mississippi Free Press Thursday that “Gov. Bryant has produced all documents within his care, custody or control that respond to the requests in the subpoenas.”
One text message shows that, on Nov. 26, 2018, Bryant sent a text to Favre asking if he wanted to speak at a rally with then-President Donald Trump for Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s campaign that evening. Favre said he could not on such short notice, but asked Bryant to “tell the big chief I said hello” and that Trump had been “very nice to the family.”
Later in the conversation that day, Favre changed the subject.
“On a different note I invested in a company called Prevacus and it’s a drug that will treat concussions we need help politically to try to get FDA approval,” Farve wrote. The texts also show that he asked Bryant if he would speak with VanLandingham, whose company is based in Tallahassee, Fla., and said they needed “funding to complete human trial studies.”
“Sure. Give him my cell and have him text or give me a call. Will be glad to help,” Bryant replied.
The Mississippi State Department of Human Services’ complaint in a 2022 civil lawsuit, which seeks the return of the $24 million in stolen TANF enabled by former employees inside the agency, indicates that, by December 2018, Favre was the largest individual outside investor in Prevacus and held $250,000 in corporate stock. Both Favre and VanLandingham are named as defendants in the civil lawsuit, which says Prevacus received $1.7 million in TANF funds.
Favre first joined forces with VanLandingham in 2014. The drug was a nasal neuro-steroid spray called Prevasol whose backers said it could help reduce swelling after a head injury. Favre and VanLandingham also sought to manufacture a topical cream through another VanLandingham company, PresolMD, that they claimed could prevent concussions if applied “pregame.”
‘We Want You On The Team’
On Dec. 6, 2018, Jake VanLandingham sent a group text to Brett Favre and Phil Bryant, telling the governor that “Brett and I are hopeful to get a group of investors together perhaps with your help and come up to Jackson.”
“We want you to know we want you on the team and we can offer stock. We don’t know the rules but are willing to do what is needed to bring you on board. Grateful for your help!!!” he wrote.
Bryant did not explicitly acknowledge the stock offer, the texts show, telling the men to “just let me know and we will call a team meeting at the Governors Mansion.”
The new texts show that Bryant, Favre and VanLandingham agreed to meet in late December along with potential funders to discuss the project and efforts to move forward with the federal FDA approval process. Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe previously reported many of the texts, but the trove the governor released Thursday reveals additional context not previously included in public files or stories.
“Governor it was a pleasure to meet you my friend,” VanLandingham wrote in a group text with Bryant and Favre after meeting for dinner in Jackson’s Fondren District on Dec. 27, 2018, the new texts show. “Thx for all you’re doing for us and being such an entertaining host. You’re the man!!!”
Favre invoked a football analogy for the efforts to move the concussion drug forward, telling Bryant “It’s 3rd and long and we need you to make it happen!!” the texts show. Bryant responded, “I will open a hole.” VanLandingham responded with a “Haha.”
Over the next weeks and months, Bryant would suggest multiple avenues for moving the project forward, pointing to the University of Mississippi Medical School Foundation as a possibility for obtaining research funding as well as numerous potential wealthy funders or investors.
‘If Any One Comes Through It Will Be Her’
On Dec. 29, 2018, Jake VanLandingham sent a text message to Brett Favre, thanking him for connecting him with nonprofit operator Nancy New of the Mississippi Community Education Center. Those texts are not among Bryant’s texts but are instead included in a document the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed in a civil lawsuit on March 13, 2023.
“I’m going to venture out on a limb and say of all the times you’ve helped me, the key contact that gets us over the top will end up being Nancy New. Thx brother, she’s great,” wrote VanLandinham (who apparently saved his own number in his phone contacts under the name “Cat Daddy”).
“Funny you say that I almost sent you a message this morning that said if any one comes through it will be her!!” Favre replied.
“She’s real strong. You know John Davis? She’s meeting with him at lunch,” VanLandingham wrote.
The MDHS texts show that the retired football star asked the Prevacus founder if he had discussed offering New shares in Prevacus or a commission on Dec. 30, 2018.
“We did briefly,” VanLandingham responded. “She was all about it but graceful in saying she loved the cause and how much it could help kids. She has 4 grandkids.”
Favre said he “figured if you mentioned it she would mostly refuse.”
“I believe it’s possible she and John Davis would use federal grant money for Prevacus,” the quarterback wrote.
“She’s (sic) thinks they could get grant money for the 3.5M but she thought she could get the 750k asap from private investors,” the Prevacus owner replied.
The next day, Favre asked again if his partner had “offered Nancy anything.”
“She said she would love some shares but we didn’t discuss how many yet,” VanLandingham wrote back on Dec. 31, 2018. “I’d say we give her 70k shares per 1M she touches in incoming investments.”
Days later, on Jan. 2, 2019, VanLandingham told Favre that New had said she was “glad to help” but that giving her shares was “not necessary.”
“Hell we giving her something,” Favre wrote back.
“I’ll slip it to her,” VanLandingham replied.
That same day, Favre hosted a meeting at his home in Lamar County with VanLandingham, Nancy New, her son Zach New, then-Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis and retired wrestler Teddy DiBiase, Jr. Bryant was not present.
State investigators allege that, after the meeting at Favre’s home, New’s nonprofit would begin investing in Prevacus by routing $1.7 million in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families from MDHS and through their nonprofit, MCEC. (Favre and VanLandingham have since denied knowing that any funds for that project or a volleyball project Favre wanted at his alma mater came from federal welfare funds).
Bryant was not at the meeting at Favre’s house and has repeatedly denied knowing that officials were using TANF funds for illicit purposes at the time. The group message between Favre, VanLandingham and Bryant does include a mention of the meeting at Favre’s home, however.
“Governor, we had a great meeting with Nancy New and John Davis. We are excited to be working together !!! Thanks,” VanLandingham wrote on Jan. 3, 2019, Bryant’s texts show. Bryant responds simply, “Very good.” The texts include no mention of welfare funds.
‘Trump Wants You To Come To The WH’
On Jan. 10, 2019, the newly revealed texts show, Phil Bryant sent a text message to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican who ran for president in 2012, to connect him with Favre. The former senator told Bryant he was “Looking forward to talking w Brett.” Later, the governor sent a text to Favre, telling him Santorum “knows how to work with FDA to get clearance for trials.”
“If you would text him and thank him for his help on our project I will help him and the doc (VanLandingham) get together,” Bryant wrote. “He can be a huge help.” In a Jan. 12, 2019 text, VanLandinham confirmed he was in contact with Santorum’s associates.
The texts show Bryant continued introducing Favre and the Prevacus founder to powerful individuals in an effort to help them bring the concussion drug closer to market. That included courting New Orleans businessman and real estate developer Joe Canizaro, who raised millions for Trump with a fundraiser at his Metairie home in 2019.
But even at the time that the Mississippi governor was helping Favre and VanLandingham pursue legal avenues for funding the project, Nancy New’s nonprofit MCEC entered into a $1.7 million contract with Prevacus on Jan. 19, 2019, a day after transferring a first payment of $750,000.
On April 4, 2019, Bryant’s newly released texts show that VanLandingham asked Bryant if it would be possible to obtain funding from the U.S. Department of Defense “to support a military clinical trial there” for Prevacus’ concussion drug; in turn, Bryant contacted a military official at Camp Shelby and put him in touch with the company’s founder. The next day, VanLandingham said in the group chat that he “had a great call with commander at Camp Shelby!” Favre replied, “Like I’ve said Jake ‘The Governor can get 💩done.’”
Three days later, on April 8, 2019, MCEC sent another $500,000 to Prevacus, MDHS court filings show; the nonprofit sent another $500,000 on April 18, 2019, and $250,000 on May 10, 2019.
Over a month later, on June 21, 2019, then-Deputy MDHS Director Jacob Black alerted Bryant to possible fraud in the department involving Director John Davis. The governor immediately turned that information over to State Auditor Shad White who launched an investigation.
On June 26, 2019, Phil Bryant sent another text to Favre, telling him “the WH called and Trump wants you to come to the WH.”
“I told them POTUS needed to take on Brain Injury as a mission and we would be there. 😁,” the governor continued.
“Yes we will. Would love to,” the retired NFL star replied.
“Could I get Jared Kushner to call you?” the governor asked, referring to Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser at the time.
“Sure. Brief me before he does so I know what to expect,” Favre replied. The texts do not make clear whether or not the call ultimately happened, however.
‘We Are In A Little Bit Of A Crunch’
In early July, Phil Bryant fired John Davis from his role at MDHS while investigators collected evidence of wrongdoing as misuse of public funds. With Davis no longer at MDHS to direct millions in welfare funds toward Nancy New’s nonprofit, the MCEC executive’s funding for the USM volleyball facility and other projects would soon dry up.
Bryant’s texts released Thursday suggest that Davis’ ouster also may have spoiled her plans to fund Jake VanLandingham’s other Florida-based company, PresolMD, in its efforts to produce a cream that the Prevacus founder and Brett Favre said could be applied topically before a game to prevent concussions.
“Hey Governor we are in a little bit of a crunch. Nancy New who is wonderful and has helped me many times was gonna fund this pregame cream that we can be selling really soon,” Favre wrote in the group text with Bryant and VanLandingham on July 16, 2019. “Well she can only do a small portion now. Jake can explain more but bottom line we need investors and need your direction.”
Bryant said he would “get with Jake” and “help all I can.” Later, he said he planned to meet with New and to arrange “a call with the WH” that “can help with our concussion project.”
That same day, MCEC sent another $400,000 to Prevacus. In a later text with Bryant on July 29, 2019, VanLandingham told him the “pregame treatment cream … is revenue generating not based on fda approval.”
“It’s all Prevacus with concussion solutions and manufacturing/trials in MS. Pregame cream sales now, Post-injury treatment is our original drug with fda,” he wrote. Bryant replied with a thumbs-up emoji.
Over the following months, the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office and the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office continued to investigate MDHS’s misspending of tens of millions in TANF dollars, examining Davis’ role as well as New and others.
Meanwhile, MCEC transferred $100,000 to PresolMD on Sept. 24, 2019, and another $100,000 on Oct. 7, 2019.
‘Trump Loves Us’
On Oct. 22, 2019, Phil Bryant asked Brett Favre if he could attend a Trump rally in Mississippi, and Favre said he would consider it.
“Perfect..the President asked me to make sure you were attending,” Bryant replied. “We need him to champion treatment of Brain Injuries among NFL players. He can make all the difference with your help…we have a cure.”
On Nov. 12, 2019, Jake VanLandingham told Bryant and Favre in the group message that “Trumps White House policy deputy is sending a rep from the White House” to meet with him in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3 about obtaining funding from the Department of Defense for Prevacus.
“Trump loves us,” Bryant wrote. “We love him!!!” the Prevacus founder replied.
Then, on Nov. 22, 2019, VanLandingham said in the group chat that “they are planning a youth brain safety study at the White House and letting Prevacus be the lead.”
“They intend at this moment to have the president greet us in the Oval Office,” he wrote. “Now this is early in the planning but we look strong for it. We need to get all our team athletes together for this and win!!!”
Bryant replied that he had “recommended this to the President’s Political Team six months ago” and said he would “reach out to my guys at the WH.”
VanLandingham said he was “working with Gregory Smith in policy affairs in the white house” and that officials there wanted to hold the event “during the two weeks leading up to the super bowl” and would like “anywhere from 5-10 other athletes with us.” Together, they brainstormed about potential “Trump-positive” sports stars they could bring with them.
On Dec. 2, 2019, the day before the planned White House meeting, VanLandingham reiterated in the group chat that “we need to get some investors to get this product selling.”
“Governor can we bring you onboard with ownership now?” he asked.
“Cannot until January 15th,” Bryant replied, referring to the date when his term as governor would end. “But would love to talk then. This is the kind of thing I love to be a part of. Something that saves lives….”
VanLandingham reported back on his meeting at the White House in a text on Dec. 5, 2019, saying “they are very supportive and moving forward with a summit plan as discussed just prior to the super bowl!!!”
The texts show that by Jan. 10, 2020, the White House still had not scheduled the event. VanLandingham shared a message from Gregory Smith in the group chat in which the White House special assistant said, “We’re still having discussions on our end—but will let you know if things come together.” At the time, Trump was just days away from the start of his first impeachment trial.
On Jan. 16, 2020, VanLandingham sent a text to Bryant, the documents show, reiterating his offer of a share of company stock.
“Now that you’re unemployed I’d like to give you a company package for all your help,” VanLandingham wrote. “Let me know when you come up for air but know we … need you on our team!!!”
“Sounds good,” Bryant replied. The two discussed making plans to meet to discuss further.
‘I’m Not A Co-Conspirator’
By Feb. 4, 2020, the White House still had not made plans for the concussion summit after Trump came under fire for downplaying traumatic brain injuries 34 U.S. troops suffered as mere “headaches.”
“Called last week and they aren’t booking anything till this darn impeachment trial is over,” Bryant said in a text to VanLandingham. The governor also renewed his request for a meeting, saying he “would like to get a direction for moving forward.”
But the next day, on Feb. 5, 2020, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens announced the arrests of John Davis, Nancy New, Zach New and three other people connected to what White called a “sprawling conspiracy” involving tens of millions in misspent welfare funds.
At the same time prosecutors alleged Davis and New were doling out millions in welfare dollars to help wealthy and well-connected friends, the State had been denying up to 99% of poor Mississippi families with children who applied for $170 in monthly TANF benefits.
The officials alleged numerous illegal uses of TANF funds, including saying that the News transferred millions to their private business and that, along with Davis, they created “a fraud scheme to take TANF funds to pay for personal investments in medical device companies (Prevacus, Inc., and PreSolMD, LLC) in Florida.”
“Is this your company mentioned in the second paragraph?” Bryant wrote in a text to VanLandingham that included a screenshot of the auditor’s announcement later that day.
“Yes, I got subpoenaed and just gave them everything. I was clueless,” the Prevacus founder wrote in the text revealed Thursday.
“Not good…,” Bryant replied.
“For me? They signed the contract to provide as a grant. I met them at Favre’s house.”
The former governor told Vanlandingham they would have to cut ties.
“I cannot be involved in any way until I know this investigation clears the company of any wrongdoing,” Bryant wrote. “You may want to talk to an attorney.”
VanLandingham insisted that he “had know (sic) idea about any of this,” but that he had “cooperated fully and obviously I’m not a co-conspirator in this mess whatever it is.”
“I was unaware your company had ever received any TANF funds,” the former governor wrote back on Feb. 10, 2020. “If some received anything of benefit personally then Legal Issues certainly exists. I can have no further contact with your company. It is unfortunate to find ourselves at this point. I was hoping we could have somehow helped those who suffer from Brain Injuries. This has put that hope on the sidelines.”
“I too was unaware of TANF fund issue,” the business owner replied. “Hopefully this gets cleared up soon. We are well on our way to helping those with brain injuries.”
“Did you receive TANIF (sic) Funds?” Bryant asked.
“Our contract was with MCEC. That’s all I know,” VanLandingham answered.
“I am sure you will be contacted soon,” the former governor said.
The Prevacus founder added that he had “spoke many times with our state auditor and shared all communications and contracts.” Bryant’s final response was a thumbs-up emoji.
‘There Must Be Total Transparency’
A month later, on March 3, 2020, Brett Favre sent Phil Bryant a text asking for his “advice in regards to talking to this girl for Mississippi today about the connection with Prevacus.”
“The truth is I did set up a meeting and in that meeting the way it was left was if any investment took place it was only if a manufacturing plant would be placed in the state to increase jobs,” Farve wrote. “Now what was invested and how I don’t know and quite frankly I didn’t care. So do I decline are tell the truth. Bud said don’t say anything.”
The texts do not indicate that Bryant ever wrote back. The woman Favre referred to as a “girl,” Anna Wolfe, published a story in Mississippi Today three days later on Favre, Bryant and Prevacus. The interview included quotes from Favre whom the reporter indicated had answered several questions by text message. “(T)his is about economic development plain and simple!!!” she quoted him as saying.
Months later, on Sept. 16, 2020, Favre once again sent Bryant a text about Prevacus, Bryant’s released texts now show.
“Prevacus requires fda approval and that’s tough as you know to get through,” the former NFL quarterback wrote.
“It is very difficult,” the former governor replied.
“But not if the right people are in our corner right?” Favre wrote.
“As always everyone must follow all rules, laws and procedures,” Bryant replied. “There must be total transparency and honesty in the process to the fullest extent possible.”
Neither concussion drug ever made it to market, and both Prevacus and PresolMD are currently listed as inactive corporations in Florida after VanLandingham sold his idea for the concussion spray to Odyssey Health, Inc., in 2021. In February 2022, the organization announced that it had partnered with Brett Favre in the enrollment of ongoing human trials for the drug. Favre and VanLandingham continued promoting the drug in an August 2022 podcast.
Investigators have not accused Bryant, Favre or VanLandingham of a crime. All three men have denied knowing that Davis and New directed TANF funds toward Prevacus prior to the arrests. Neither VanLandingham nor lawyers for Favre responded to requests for comment Thursday.
Since 2020, multiple criminal defendants in the welfare-fraud case have pleaded guilty to multiple state and federal charges, including Nancy New and John Davis.
Read the full set of messages that Gov. Phil Bryant released on May 4, 2023, here. Watch for upcoming stories on other messages released in upcoming days and weeks.
Read our TANF welfare scandal reporting dating back to February 2020 here.