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State Asks Court to Force Brett Favre to Produce Tax Returns, Texts In Welfare Case

Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre talks to reporters
Attorneys for the State of Mississippi asked a Hinds County Circuit Court to compel Brett Favre to turn over his tax returns and text messages on Oct. 9, 2023, as part of its effort to recoup misspent welfare funds in civil court. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Attorneys for the State of Mississippi are asking a judge to force retired NFL star Brett Favre to turn over tax returns and text messages as the Mississippi Department of Human Services continues its efforts to recoup millions in misspent welfare funds.

“MDHS has propounded a total of twenty-seven requests for production to Favre. Favre has raised objections to every request,” says the motion to compel discovery, which State attorneys filed in the Circuit Court of Hinds County on Monday.

Favre is one of dozens of individuals targeted in the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ civil lawsuit. The former MDHS director, John Davis, pleaded guilty to state and federal charges last year for his role in directing $77 million in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families funds to illicit causes.

2023-10-06 Brett Favre deposition
Read the motion to compel discovery.

Millions in TANF funds went to sports celebrities, including Favre, and causes they championed, state attorneys say. Investigators say Favre not only received $1.1 million in TANF funds to tape promotional material and give motivational speeches, but that Davis and nonprofit organizations he’d entrusted millions in TANF funds to directed welfare dollars to two projects the former quarterback asked for assistance with: building a volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi, his alma mater where his daughter was playing volleyball at the time, and toward Prevacus, a concussion drug company he was heavily invested in.

Favre has denied knowing that the money came from welfare funds and, though he is a target in the civil lawsuit, he is not among those who have been indicted by state or federal prosecutors in the welfare scandal.

Attorneys for MDHS first issued requests for Favre to produce documents relevant to the case in June 2022, but in its filing Monday, the State expressed dissatisfaction with the athlete’s responses. In response to the State’s request for him to “describe in detail all documents and/or recordings and/or data concerning the subject matter of this action that have been destroyed, lost, discarded, or otherwise disposed of,” Favre’s attorneys objected, calling the request “overly broad, unduly burdensome, and irrelevant.”

“In his Interrogatory response, Favre states he has no information responsive to the disposal of documents, recordings and/or data,” the State’s motion to compel says. “But, in response to MDHS’s requests for admissions, Favre claims he cannot verify the authenticity of text messages because he no longer has a record of the text messages. Both responses cannot be true. Either Favre has all his text messages, or he does not. If he does not have certain text messages, Favre has information responsive to Interrogatory No. 9. If he does have all his text messages, he should verify the authenticity of his text messages.”

State: Favre’s Taxes Relevant to Volleyball Issue

Brett Favre’s responses said that “Favre was not aware that John Davis was executive director of MDHS as of September 1, 2017” and that he “was not aware that MDHS was Mississippi’s welfare agency as of September 1, 2017.”

But the Mississippi Free Press’ timeline of the volleyball saga shows that Favre first met with the since-indicted nonprofit leader Nancy New, who at the time controlled millions in MDHS funds, in July 2017. She set up a meeting between Favre, Davis and others at USM on July 24, 2017. “Nancy thank you again!!! John mentioned 4 million and not sure if I heard him right,” Favre wrote in a text to New later that day, referring to funds the MDHS director pledged to direct toward the volleyball project at the time.

a photo of the USM volleyball stadium seen from around an oak tree
After Brett Favre met with then-MDHS Director John Davis and MCEC Director Nancy New in 2017, Davis directed millions in welfare funds to build this volleyball stadium, known as the Wellness Center, on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. Photo by Ashton Pittman

Between 2017 and 2020, Favre repeatedly sought help from New, Davis and former Gov. Phil Bryant for funding the volleyball stadium. None of the publicly available texts prove that Favre or Bryant knew the money going to the project were welfare dollars, though the former governor did talk about hosting fundraisers to help fund it.

After receiving a tip from MDHS’ deputy director in mid-2019, Bryant turned information about Davis over to the state auditor, kicking off the welfare investigation; by the end of 2019, the State cut off all funding to New’s organizations. The scandal went public in February 2020 when State Auditor Shad White and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens announced the first arrests, including of New and Davis.

In his earlier response, Favre’s attorneys objected to the State’s request for his 2017-2020 tax returns, saying “it seeks documents that are irrelevant to the claims or defenses in this Action,” that the request “is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,” and that it “is overly broad, unduly burdensome and harassing” because it seeks documents containing “personal and confidential” information.

But in its motion to compel discovery, the State argues that “Favre’s tax returns are relevant and probative to both MDHS’s claims and Favre’s defenses.”

“MDHS and Favre dispute whether Favre agreed to fund the construction of the volleyball facility prior to his signing a written pledge,” Monday’s motion says. “The amounts Favre paid towards the construction of the facility—which presumably would be reflected on his tax returns—are relevant to that dispute. The tax return also may contain relevant information regarding payments Favre made to or received from any defendant. Any concerns Favre has regarding the personal and confidential information in his tax returns can be addressed by entry of the protective order to which MDHS agreed.”

Favre: Search Terms ‘Overly Broad and Harassing’

The State’s motion to compel claims that Brett Favre has insufficiently searched for key documents and text messages. In his responses, Favre’s attorneys said the request for documents responsive to 40 search terms were “overly broad and harassing in that it seeks all documents that hit on particular search terms without regard to whether such documents are relevant to the claims or defenses in this action.”

State attorneys disagree.

“By searching only for ‘Nancy New,’ for instance, Favre’s searches will not hit on emails or texts referring casually to her only as ‘Nancy.’ MDHS knows that these documents exist from text messages between Defendant Jacob Vanlandingham and Favre,” Monday’s filing says. (Vanlandingham, another target of the civil suit, is the founder of Prevacus and Favre’s business partner). “Favre has not claimed that any other women named ‘Nancy’ are a large part of his life, and therefore, he has given MDHS no reason to believe this search term will result in the production of irrelevant documents. …”

“… Likewise, MDHS asked for a search for ‘Gov’ or ‘Governor’; in text messages with Nancy New, Favre often referred to Governor Bryant this way, without using his last name,” the motion continues. “And he often used the shorthand ‘vball’ or ‘v-ball’ instead of ‘volleyball,’ so searches for ‘volleyball stadium,’ ‘volleyball court,’ and ‘volleyball facility’ are also underinclusive.”

“In a world where people receive hundreds of emails and text messages daily, searches are the only reasonable way to determine relevant documents,” the motions says. “MDHS does not agree that its search terms are overbroad, and it does not agree that Favre can run the searches but then only produce what he alone deems relevant. This is why Favre’s failure to state whether he has withheld responsive documents based on his objections is critical.”

Favre is set to give sworn testimony during a deposition with State attorneys in December. The deposition had originally been set to take place in Hattiesburg in late October, but State attorneys notified the court on Oct. 6 that they had changed the date without explanation.

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