Brett Favre, the retired NFL quarterback who is now a civil defendant in the State of Mississippi’s lawsuit to clawback millions in misspent welfare funds, denied during a sworn deposition with investigators in December that he sought funding to build a volleyball stadium for his daughter’s benefit.
A state welfare official and a nonprofit operator directed millions in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families Millions to build the stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi after repeated overtures from Favre between 2017 and 2019. (Favre has repeatedly denied knowing the money came from TANF funds). His daughter, Breleigh Favre, was a Southern Miss student who was on the women’s indoor volleyball team at the time he began seeking help to build the facility at his alma mater.
“Did I want her to play in there? It would have been nice,” Favre told state attorneys in Hattiesburg, Miss., during the deposition on Dec. 11, 2023. “Is that the reason I built it, or we built it? Absolutely not.” The quote comes from five pages of the deposition transcript that Favre’s attorneys selected to release in public court filings; the rest of the over 300-page deposition transcript remains sealed from public view. Front Office Sports’ A.J. Perez first reported on the available pages Tuesday,
By the time the USM volleyball stadium was completed in 2020, Breleigh Favre had switched from the indoor volleyball team to the university’s new beach volleyball team, as her father pointed out to investigators.
“When Breleigh committed to a university, I knew she was going to play volleyball,” Brett Favre said in the deposition, adding that a USM official had told him the university planned to add beach volleyball at some point, “but it was going to take a few years.”
“I knew that there was a very good chance that my daughter would not play (in the stadium) because I knew she was going to play beach when it was added, and that’s what happened. She never played in there at all,” he told investigators.
Favre Sought Help Paying for Beach Volleyball
Text messages released in court filings in 2022 showed that Brett Favre also sought funding for the $250,000 beach-volleyball facility by late 2017 after Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis had already agreed to $5 million for the stadium.
The beach-volleyball facility was completed by late 2018, with the team announcing its inaugural schedule with Breleigh Favre among its ranks in January 2019.
In June 2019, Brett Favre sent a text message about the remaining costs owed for the stadium and the beach-volleyball facility to Nancy New, the nonprofit operator who had already helped direct millions to the volleyball stadium.
“Nancy as of today that number is 1.95 mill for everything. It’s not due and if anything that number will go down but not up. Deanna and I keep chipping away also. Thank you as always,” he wrote on June 26, 2019.
“Hey there. Steadily working on this and hope to have some relief after the first of July. I am feeling good about getting some of it knocked down and then more should be available soon after,” New replied. “Is this amount on the facility or beach volleyball?”
“Total,” Favre responded.
During a March 2022 interview on SANDCAST, a podcast focused on beach volleyball, Brett Favre bragged that “we have, from what I’ve seen, the second-best (beach-volleyball) facilities in the country.”
“Usually it’s like the program is built slowly but surely and then facilities will come, but we’re different. We have facilities. They’re outstanding,” he said.
USM Beach Volleyball Head Coach Shawn Taylor credited Favre.
“We were fortunate. Brett and his wife Deanna played a big role in helping us get those facilities,” the coach said.
Later in the podcast, Favre said that growing up with three brothers and a sister “who always got the short end of the stick” made him want to ensure his daughters had more opportunities.
“So when I had girls, I knew they were not going to play football, and I wanted them to feel special like I did playing football all those years,” he said. “And our youngest daughter (Breleigh), who’s playing on the team is like, ‘Dad, whatever you do, stay in the background.’ I’m like, ‘Look, I’ll try.’ … But building facilities or helping build facilities on campus—I mean, everyone thinks I built an indoor football practice, which I think we desperately need—but if I don’t stick my neck out for the girls, who is (going to)? And I’m proud of that.”
Months after that podcast, former Gov. Phil Bryant would release text messages showing that Favre had sought his help funding an indoor football stadium.
“I already with Nancy started talking about a indoor facility but I think we have got to get one to stay up with everyone else. But it won’t happen anytime soon if you and Nancy can’t help,” Favre wrote on July 22, 2019.
By that time, though, the state auditor had begun investigating MDHS’s spending. “The State Auditor is reviewing all the Contracts at DHS which Funds Families First,” Bryant wrote, referring to a state initiative New led. “Hope we get legal clearance soon. Don’t want to get anyone in trouble for improper expenditures.”
‘Favre Did Change His Mind’
In Brett Favre’s attorneys’ Jan. 22 court filings, which focused on their efforts to depose MSDH officials, the lawyers also included eight pages of transcripts from a deposition former USM President Rodney Bennett sat for with State investigators on Oct. 31, 2023. The lawyers argued in a filing that Bennett’s testimony undermined the State’s claims that Favre “benefited” from the transfer of TANF money to fund the volleyball stadium because of a “handshake” agreement he had made to pay for it himself in early 2017.
In page 296 of Bennett’s deposition, a State attorney asked Bennett what his “understanding” was of Favre’s initial intentions regarding the facility.
“My understanding, from my early January meeting with Brett was that Brett was going to pay, personally, for whatever the cost of the facility was, and he and I discussed as part of that conversation an undetermined amount, because we did not know—you know, in many regards, we were talking about it in conceptual terms,” the former USM president said.
“We want a volleyball facility, these are some of the things we want in the facility, we don’t know what that would yet cost. But the agreement was, between Brett and me in my office, that he would pay for the entire amount, in an effort to have that facility able to move along the continuum faster than it would if it were a state capital project. As part of that conversation, as with any donor that I’m working with, they have a right to change their mind. They have a right to say, I’m going to fund it and then not fund it.”
Soon after that meeting, Favre’s attorneys argued in the Jan. 22 filings, “Favre did change his mind.”
“The allegedly fraudulent transfers, which took place a the end of 2017, thus could not have been a ‘benefit’ to Favre because, even if Favre had said he would pay for the cost of the facility, Favre had the right to change his mind and did change his mind long before those transfers were made or even contemplated.”
In a January 2020 text message, former Gov. Phil Bryant told Bennett that Favre was continuing to pressure him for help obtaining more state funds to finish paying for the costs of the volleyball project.
“I’ve asked Brett to not do the things he’s doing to seek funding from state agencies and the legislature for the volleyball facility,” Bennett wrote on Jan. 27, 2020. “As you know, IHL has a process of how we request and get approval for projects and what he’s doing is outside those guidelines. I will see, for the ‘umpteenth time’ if we can get him to stand down. The bottom line is he personally guaranteed the project, and on his word and handshake we proceeded. It’s time for him to pay up-it really is just that simple.”
“That’s (sic) was my thoughts,” Bryant replied. “Maybe he wants the State to pay off his promises. Like all of us I like Brett. He is a legend but he has to understand what a pledge means. I have tried many times to explain that to him.”
State investigators also noted during Bennett’s deposition that Favre had emailed then-U.S. House Rep. Steven Palazzo in 2017 asking for help with the volleyball project. “Any help donation-wise or materials we can certainly use. Deanna and I are building this,” the athlete wrote, investigators said. The quoted email does not mention welfare funds.
Like Favre’s deposition, the vast majority of Bennett’s testimony remains under seal and is not publicly available.
‘I Didn’t Do Anything’
During the Dec. 11, 2023, deposition, investigators asked Favre if he did “anything” to determine whether the millions in funds that then-Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis and Mississippi Community Education Center founder Nancy New had promised to direct toward the volleyball stadium were legal.
“I didn’t do anything,” the retired quarterback said.
“So you didn’t talk to a lawyer about that?” asked the state investigator.
“The lawyers for Southern Miss, the Attorney General, the governor’s office. The governor was involved and was all excited about it,” Favre responded.
The Mississippi attorney general’s office under Democrat Jim Hood approved a sublease agreement for the volleyball stadium between the Southern Miss Athletic Foundation and MCEC. Text messages released in 2022 and 2023 show that Favre sought help from then-Gov. Phil Bryant to build the volleyball stadium, though none of those texts mention using welfare funds. Investigators have not accused Bryant, Hood, Favre or Southern Miss officials of any crimes.
It is not clear whether investigators asked the retired quarterback about his efforts to obtain funding for beach volleyball or the indoor football stadium. The $7 million the State is seeking from Favre also relates to TANF funds that went to Prevacus, a pharmaceutical company he had heavily invested in.
The USM alum is among dozens of defendants in the civil lawsuit over welfare funds that investigators say were misspent during Davis’ tenure between 2016 and 2019. Since 2020, state and federal prosecutors have indicted multiple people involved in the welfare scandal, including Davis and New, who have both accepted guilty pleas.