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Brett Favre’s Attorneys to Depose Ex-Gov. Phil Bryant in Mississippi Welfare Case

A side by side photo with Brett Favre on the left and Phil Bryant on the right
Attorneys for Brett Favre, left, said in a Dec. 28, 2023, court filing that they will question former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, right, under oath in a video deposition regarding the welfare scandal on Jan. 25, 2024. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File

Attorneys for retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre will question former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant about the state’s $77-million welfare scandal in a video deposition later this month, a new court filing says.

“PLEASE TAKE NOTICE, that, pursuant to Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, undersigned counsel will take the deposition, under oath by oral examination and by videography of Dewey Philip Bryant, for all lawful purposes and for use at trial on Thursday, January 25, 2024, at 9:00 a.m. CST, in the offices of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, One Jackson Place, 188 E. Capitol Street, Suite 1000, Jackson, Mississippi 39201,” says the Dec. 28, 2023, notice.

Front Office Sports’ A.J. Perez first reported on the planned deposition this morning. There are no noted objections to the deposition from Bryant’s attorneys.

Click the screencap to read the deposition notice.

Between 2017 and 2019, the Bryant-appointed former Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis and Mississippi Community Education Center nonprofit operator Nancy New directed millions in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families funds to Favre, a pharmaceutical business he was heavily invested in called Prevacus and a volleyball stadium he wanted built at the University of Southern Mississippi.

The athlete has denied knowing the money came from welfare funds, however, and is among dozens of people or organizations the State says received illicit funds. Favre has not been charged with a crime but is a defendant in a civil lawsuit as the Mississippi Department of Human Services fights to recoup millions in misspent TANF funds. While publicly released texts show Favre knew the funds came from the Mississippi State Department of Human Services, he has repeatedly said he did not know the money came from welfare funds.

Favre attorney Eric D. Herschmann, who previously served as an attorney for former President Donald Trump, signed the deposition filing. It says the “oral examination will continue from day to day until completed” and that the “deponent is requested to bring with him and produce at his deposition any and all documents reviewed prior to giving his deposition under oath.”

‘Not Taking No For An Answer’

Though former Gov. Phil Bryant is neither a civil nor criminal defendant in the welfare case, several defendants have sought to implicate him. In a Dec. 12 filing, MCEC founder Nancy New’s attorneys alleged that “Bryant was involved, both directly and indirectly, in directing, approving, facilitating, and/or furthering MDHS’s use of federal grant funds for Prevacus and for construction of the USM volleyball center.”

In 2022, New’s lawyers released text messages in a court filing that appeared to show Bryant had asked her to help Brett Favre get funding for the volleyball stadium in 2019. The quarterback wanted the stadium built at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, where his daughter was on the volleyball team at the time.

“Just left Brett Favre. Can we help him with his project. We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects on course,” the governor wrote in a July 16, 2019, text included in New’s filing.

The MCEC founder responded that she “would really appreciate having the opportunity to follow through with all the good things we are working on, especially projects like Brett’s” and said she would make herself available for a meeting when Bryant had time.

But several weeks after New’s text dump in September 2022, Bryant’s attorneys released dozens of his own text messages that added additional context. Those texts show that Favre and New had sought help from Davis and Bryant dating back to 2017, but the former governor’s texts do not appear to show him ever suggesting the use of welfare funds. Several of his text conversations with Favre and New appear to relate to private fundraising.

A blonde woman in black centers the frame, a black uniformed officer in the foreground to the left
Mississippi Community Education Center nonprofit operator Nancy New accepted a guilty plea after her 2020 arrest. Prosecutors say she directed millions in state welfare dollars to illegal purposes, including toward projects Brett Favre favored. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File

Bryant forwarded a tip about possible wrongdoing at MDHS to the state auditor’s office in mid-2019 and fired Davis that July. The move raised alarms for New, who feared her funding would be derailed.

“Nancy if I can help you in any way you know I will. Please know that,” Favre wrote to New on July 16, 2019.

“Thanks Brett. That means a lot to me. I am ok, just politics and people,” New responded. “We are trying to stay above the foolishness and we will. Too much good stuff to get done. I am concerned that I may not be able to assist you in Aug. as we had planned. I will continue to work on that though.”

Later that month, Bryant announced retired FBI Special Agent Christopher Freeze as Davis’ interim replacement. Favre and New pushed Bryant and Freeze for help with funding, even offering to name the stadium after the governor, but texts show they worried the governor may not follow through.

“Of course he is a politician so I’m a little uneasy,” Favre wrote to New on Aug. 10, 2019.

“Yep, I totally agree. I hope he will stay steady and help us get it done,” New replied.

Later that month, Freeze told Bryant in an Aug. 21, 2019, text that he was “not inclined to approve” their request for $2 million for the volleyball project—even after Davis had already approved millions for it in 2017.

“As always I am not going to interfere,” Bryant responded. “You got a better understanding than I do of these projects. I think Brett was told it was going to get done by the previous Director. One of the reasons that he is a former Director.”

screenshot of a text between Phil Bryant and a staff attorney
In a Sept. 6, 2019, text message, then-Gov. Phil Bryant told a staff attorney that he believed Nancy New knew “what they were doing was wrong.” Bryant court filing

Still, Freeze and Bryant agreed to meet Favre and New on Sept. 4, 2019. After that meeting, the quarterback once again sent a text to the governor urging him to prioritize the volleyball project. “We obviously need your help big time and time is working against us,” Favre wrote. “And we feel that your name is the perfect choice for this facility and we are not taking No for an answer! You are a Southern Miss Alumni, and folks need to know you are also a supporter of the University.”

“We are going to get there,” Bryant replied. “But we have to follow the law. I am to (sic) old for Federal Prison.😎”

Another text Bryant released shows that two days later, on Sept. 6, 2019, he told an unnamed staff attorney that Nancy New “wants to meet again” but that he did not “think that’s a good idea.”

“Nancy is worrying. She knows what they were doing was wrong,” the governor wrote.

“100%. She should be worried,” his staff attorney replied.

In February 2020, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens publicly announced the welfare scandal investigation and the first six arrests, including of New and Davis, who later accepted guilty pleas.

‘We Want You On The Team’

In May 2020, Brett Favre paid back $500,000 of a $1.1-million payment he received in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families funds from Nancy New’s MCEC to give motivational speeches and record advertisements. He repaid the other $600,000 after receiving a demand letter from the state auditor’s office in late 2021.

The civil lawsuit is also demanding that Favre repay funds that went to the volleyball stadium and that went to Prevacus, the drug company he invested in with its founder, Jake VanLandingham. An MCEC filing that Front Office Sports first reported alleged that VanLandingham had lost money in a scam and needed “a big funder.”

Additional text messages that Bryant released in May 2023 show Favre and VanLandingham sought the governor’s help obtaining funds for the company and help with the approval process for its concussion drug.

a screencap of Jake VanLandingham speaking at a congressional hearing
Prevacus founder Jake VanLandingham of Tallahassee, Fla., seen here testifying before Congress on brain injuries in 2014, told then-Gov. Phil Bryant he wanted him “on the team and can offer stock” in a text message on Dec. 6, 2018. Screencap courtesy C-SPAN

On Dec. 6, 2018, VanLandingham sent a group text to Favre and 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 governor connected the two with potential wealthy donors and powerful officials, including former Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and officials at the Trump White House.

Donald Trump listens to Phil Bryant speak at a rally
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, seen here at a Nov. 1, 2019, rally with then-President Donald Trump in Tupelo, Miss., put Brett Favre and Jake VanLandingham in touch with the Trump White House to help in their efforts to bring Prevacus’ concussion drug to market. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

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 the civil case 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,” VanLandingham wrote to Favre on Dec. 29, 2018.

“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.

screenshot of texts described
Brett Favre texted Jake VanLandingham on Dec. 29, 2018, saying that “if any one comes through it will be (Nancy New),” texts the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed in civil court on March 13, 2023, show. MDHS

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-Director 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 came from federal welfare funds).

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White, left, listens to Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens answer reporters questions
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White (left) and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens (right) announced the first arrests in the Mississippi welfare scandal on Feb. 5, 2020. They are seen here at an April 26, 2022, press conference. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

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.

Favre Interrogated in December

When State Auditor Shad White and District Attorney Jody Owens broke the news of the welfare scandal and the arrests on Feb. 5, 2020, a press release noted that among other things, New and Davis created “a fraud scheme to take TANF funds to pay for personal investments in medical device companies (Prevacus, Inc., and PreSolMD, LLC) in Florida.”

Bryant, who had left office several weeks earlier in January 2020, informed Jake VanLandingham in a Feb. 10, 2020, text that he would have to cut ties with his company. The founder had planned to meet with him to offer him stock in the company since he was no longer governor.

“I was unaware your company had ever received any TANF funds,” Bryant wrote. “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,” VanLandingham replied. “Hopefully this gets cleared up soon. We are well on our way to helping those with brain injuries.”

Though VanLandingham is a civil defendant alongside Favre, he has not been accused of a crime.

Text: BF: Is your cause brain injury? Brett Favre: “Prevacus requires fda approval and that’s tough as you know to get through Bryant: It is very difficult Favre: But not if the right people are in our corner right? PB: As always everyone must follow all rules, laws and procedures. There must be total transparency and honesty in the process to the fullest extent possible.
On Sept. 16, 2020, Phil Bryant cautioned Brett Favre that “everyone must follow all rules, laws and procedures.” Phil Bryant Texts

The texts Bryant released include another that Favre sent him over seven months after New and Davis’ arrests.

​​“Prevacus requires fda approval and that’s tough as you know to get through,” the former NFL quarterback wrote on Sept. 16, 2020.

“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.”

Favre sat for his own deposition with attorneys for the Mississippi Department of Human Services last month, but the transcript is currently under seal so the content of his sworn testimony is not public knowledge.

Late last year, attorneys for Favre and the State successfully asked Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Faye Peterson to place certain discovery materials, including depositions, under seal. On Dec. 15, she ruled that Favre must turn his text messages over to the State but that he does not have to turn over his tax returns.

Because of the protective order, Bryant’s questioning will likely remain private even after the Jan. 25 deposition.

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