Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ brother helped coordinate retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre’s plans to repay $1.1 million in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families funds tied to the state’s massive welfare scandal, text messages the governor’s campaign revealed today show.
“The texts in question, which are revealed in full here, show Todd Reeves connecting Brett Favre and (State) Auditor Shad White to help coordinate the repayment of funds. There is nothing that implies Todd was involved beyond helping the state to recover misspent dollars,” a statement from the governor’s office this afternoon says.
Reeves’ office said in the statement that they released the texts to preempt a forthcoming Mississippi Today article. The nonprofit news site took the state auditor’s office to court to get him to provide the texts through a public-records request, but White’s office cited “their broad exemption for records that are related to investigations as is their standard policy,” Reeves’ statement says. In court Wednesday before the governor released the texts, state lawyers argued that they should not be released because they could harm the ongoing investigations.
When the Mississippi Free Press asked the auditor’s office for comments on Reeves’ decision to release the texts, White’s communications director Fletcher Freeman responded with a statement.
“While Mr. Reeves has the right to release his text messages, the State Auditor’s Office has not and will not release information regarding a potential or ongoing investigation to protect the integrity of an investigation,” he said. “The men and women of the State Auditor’s Office have worked tirelessly to hold those who steal taxpayers’ dollars accountable, and we will continue to work with prosecutors and our federal partners to do so.”
Today’s press release from Gov. Reeves includes a statement from Todd Reeves.
“I’ve been friendly with Brett for years, and always heard great things about Shad,” the governor’s brother says in the statement. “I didn’t learn anything about this TANF mess or Brett’s dealings with the state until it was front page news. When Brett was considering repaying the funds, he asked me if I could help him get in touch with the auditor to coordinate that—so that’s what I did.
“I helped money get back in the right hands, not the wrong hands, and I think that’s what most people would have done. Brett believed he had done nothing wrong, and I helped convince him to return the money anyway. Those are the texts in question. I know Mississippi Today is willing to lie about us, so I just wanted to get the truth out.”
The Reeves campaign and other Republicans have become increasingly critical of Mississippi Today’s coverage of the welfare scandal. Last month, former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant sued the publication, alleging defamation; Mississippi Today’s attorneys have denied Bryant’s allegations.
Neither state nor federal prosecutors have accused Tate Reeves, Todd Reeves or Brett Favre of a crime, though Favre is a target in the State’s ongoing civil lawsuit to recover misspent TANF funds.
‘Just Asking Not To Be Thrown Under The Bus’
Between 2016 and 2019, investigators say the Mississippi Department of Human Services and connected nonprofits directed more than $77 million in welfare funds that should have gone to the state’s poorest families instead toward illegal purposes. While those funds were going to wealthy sports celebrities and causes they championed, MDHS was denying up to 99% of families who applied for TANF assistance.
Three months after State Auditor Shad White and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens revealed the welfare scandal as they announced the first arrests in February 2020, the texts show that the state auditor texted Todd Reeves on May 6, 2020. The text explained that Favre could make a check “payable to State Department of Audit Exception Clearing Account” as he began repaying the $1.1 million he had received in TANF funds.
The since-indicted nonprofit leader Nancy New, who controlled millions in welfare funds from the Mississippi Department of Human Services, had routed the TANF funds to Favre through her nonprofit, Mississippi Community Education Center, in exchange for him recording ads and giving speeches for another organization she led, Families First Mississippi.
“Check is here at Bus Cooks office,” Todd Reeves wrote in a text to White on May 6, 2020, referring to Favre’s agent at the time. “Working on statement.” The auditor replied that he was sending an agent to pick it up.
Todd Reeves followed up with a request of the auditor at 3:40 p.m.: “If possible, Brett would like you to say something along the lines of ‘the investigation (shows to this point) Brett has done nothing wrong and the monies he is paying back for commercials and Psa’s is from his own good will.’”
Less than an hour later, at 4:34 p.m., White announced in a Twitter thread that Favre had repaid $500,000 of the TANF money he had received and made “a commitment to repay the remainder in installments over the next few months.”
“I want to applaud Mr. Favre for his good faith effort to make this right and make the taxpayers and TANF families whole,” White wrote on May 6, 2020. “To date, we have seen no records indicating Mr. Favre knew that TANF was the program that served as the source of the money he was paid.”
Another statement appeared on Favre’s Twitter account at 7:49 p.m., with the retired NFL quarterback saying he “never received monies for obligations (he) didn’t meet.” Favre’s statement that evening said he “was unaware” that the money was paid for out of funds meant for poor families with children and noted his own philanthropic work in Mississippi and Wisconsin. “It has brought a ton of joy to my life, and I would certainly never do anything to take away from the children I have fought to help,” he added.
The texts show that on May 15, 2020, White sent a text to Todd Reeves saying it was “to discuss the meeting idea”—without specifying what the meeting was about. The next day, on May 16, 2020, Todd Reeves wrote back, saying he appreciated “you talking and helping the last couple of weeks.” White said he was “Happy to talk any time.”
Favre still had not made any additional payments several months later on Sept. 22, 2020, when Todd Reeves sent another message to Shad White.
“I think Brett is working to get some more money sent in,” Todd Reeves wrote. “He’s had some reporters start hounding them again. I’m sure they have contacted your office. He’s just asking not to be thrown under the bus as he is working within the timeline. Hope you are doing well, the professor thing has been quite interesting.” (The last part was a reference to White’s investigation into a University of Mississippi professor who participated in an anti-racism “strike.”) White reacted to Todd Reeves’ message with a thumbs-up icon.
The texts do not show any communications between White and Todd Reeves after Sept. 22, 2020. Reeves campaign Chief of Staff Parker Briden told the Mississippi Free Press this afternoon that Todd Reeves did not have any text messages with White after that date and did not continue helping Favre with repayment efforts afterward.
Favre Repaid $600,000 After Demand Letter
A year later, though, Brett Favre still had not made any more repayments, prompting State Auditor Shad White to send a demand letter to him and others who had received but not paid back TANF funds. The state auditor demanded the retired quarterback pay back the $600,000 plus $228,000 in interest.
White and Favre traded barbs on Twitter in October 2021, with the auditor accusing Favre of telling “lies” when he said that he met his obligations. Favre paid back the $600,000, but not the $228,000 in interest; White then referred Favre and others who had received TANF funds to the Mississippi attorney general’s office.
In May 2022, the State launched a massive lawsuit against dozens of plaintiffs, including Favre, attempting to claw back tens of millions in misspent TANF funds. In addition to the funds White had already sought to recover, the State sued Favre over millions his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, received in TANF funds to build a volleyball stadium and for millions that Prevacus, a concussion drug company he was invested in, also received.
Investigators have not accused Favre of any crimes, however, and he has denied knowing any of the money came from welfare funds.
Favre Sought Reeves’ Help Funding Stadium
Hundreds of text messages revealed in court filings over the past year show that between 2017 and 2019, Brett Favre repeatedly pushed Nancy New, then-Gov. Phil Bryant and the since-indicted Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis for help funding the volleyball stadium where his daughter was a volleyball athlete.
The texts revealed last year do not prove that Favre or Bryant knew the volleyball funds USM received came from welfare funds, though the retired quarterback did express concerns about “the media” finding out “where it came from and how much.” But they do show that, after learning about potential wrongdoing at MDHS in mid-2019, Bryant began questioning the source of the funds. Later, in November 2019, he suggested in a text to Favre that it may be possible to obtain additional funding for the volleyball project via a legislative appropriation the next year.
The governor ordered MDHS to cut off all funding to New’s nonprofits in December 2019 and left office the next month as Tate Reeves was inaugurated. When Favre texted Bryant in late January 2020, the former governor suggested that he ought to reach out to the new governor.
Text messages the Mississippi Free Press first reported after obtaining them via a public-records request to Gov. Reeves’ office last year show that Favre sent a text to the new governor on Jan. 27, 2020, and that Todd Reeves had set up a call between the two. “Hey bud we set to talk today at 2 Todd said,” Favre wrote, adding that state programs would be able to use the facility “like seminars,teen rallies,obesity campaigns etc….”
Less than two weeks later on Feb. 5, 2020, officials would announce the first arrests in the welfare scandal, including John Davis and Nancy New who have both since accepted plea deals. The next day, Favre would text Bryant again asking if he had “spoken to Tate.” The former quarterback told the former governor that Gov. Reeves “said he was gonna get with his team and figure something out.”
“This has been the problem,” Bryant replied, attaching a link to a story about the arrests in the welfare scandal. “Not sure what funding will be available in the future.”
“Yeah I’m well aware of it,” Favre replied. “I think the angle Tate is looking at is a bond bill according to Todd Reeves. You think that has a chance?”
“Bonds can sure be used for Brick and mortar,” Bryant replied, apparently alluding to prohibitions in state law against using TANF funds for building projects. He told Favre that he would “have to wait until a bond bill is drafted and hope you make the list.”
There is no evidence that Gov. Reeves followed through on Favre’s request for help obtaining additional funding for the volleyball project and no such legislative appropriations were ever made. Neither state nor federal prosecutors have accused the current or former governor of any crimes related to the welfare scandal.