Texts: Favre also asked for social money for football facilities
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — After Mississippi spent millions of welfare dollars on Brett Favre’s pet project, a college volleyball arena, the retired NFL quarterback tried two more years late to get extra money from the state welfare agency for another athletic facility, new court documents show.
Then-Governor Republican Phil Bryant texted Favre in 2019, who wanted to build an indoor training facility for the University of Southern Mississippi football team. Bryant told him federal money for low-income children and adults was “tightly controlled” and “misuse could result in a violation of federal law.”
The text messages between Bryant and Favre appear in court documents filed Friday by Bryant’s lawyers, which seek to show the governor was willing to help Favre raise private funds for the volleyball center beginning in 2017 and that he had been unaware for more than two years that welfare was going. to the project.
Mississippi’s biggest public corruption case has ensnared several people, including a professional wrestler whose rehab was funded by welfare.
The state has filed a civil lawsuit against Favre and others to recover more than $20 million in ill-spent welfare dollars meant to help those in need in one of the nation’s poorest states. Bryant and Favre do not face criminal charges, and Bryant is not among those named in the state’s civil lawsuit.
A former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, John Davis, pleaded guilty Thursday to federal and state felony charges in a conspiracy to embezzle welfare money. Davis was appointed by Bryant in February 2016 and fired by him in July 2019. Davis agreed to testify against others.
Lawyers for a sued nonprofit, the Mississippi Community Education Center, served a subpoena on Bryant in late July, seeking communication between the former governor and anyone else about the arena. volleyball.
The nonprofit was run by Nancy New and her son, Zachary New, who in April pleaded guilty to welfare misuse charges. They also agreed to testify against others.
In the court filing on Friday, Bryant objected to the production of documents unless he was under a protective order to prevent the public dissemination of the content.
“This motion was brought in bad faith and solely to annoy, embarrass and oppress Governor Bryant because he refused to condone the crimes perpetrated by New and Davis,” Bryant’s attorneys wrote.
Favre’s request for money from the Mississippi Department of Human Services to fund the football facility came to nothing. Favre made the request on July 28, 2019, when he was unsuccessfully trying to recruit the son of another retired NFL player, Deion Sanders, from the University of Hattiesburg.
Favre played football at the University of Southern Mississippi before going to the NFL in 1991. Bryant and New are also alumni, and Favre wrote to Bryant that having a practice room in hall would give the football program “instant credibility”.
Favre’s daughter started playing volleyball in college in 2017. The new court documents say Bryant first learned that Favre was trying to raise money for a volleyball arena on April 20, 2017. , when Favre texted the governor to say that he and his wife, Deanna, were building the facility.
“I need your influence in some way to get donations and/or sponsorships,” Favre emailed Bryant. “Obviously Southern has no money, so I’m rushing to get him up.”
The documents indicate that Bryant responded hours later, “Of course, I’m all for the volleyball setup. … One thing I know how to do is fundraise.
In July 2017, Favre texted Bryant again about the volleyball facility, asking “if we can find a contractor who would say hi rather than give you money, I’ll build for free!” ! Maybe you know someone.
Bryant replied that he was “everywhere”.
“Importantly, in these early text messages, Favre never mentioned the use of public funds, much less the use of TANF funds for the construction of the facility,” Bryant’s attorneys wrote on Friday. . “At that time, discussions between Favre and Governor Bryant focused on private donations and corporate sponsorships.”
In July 2017, court records show that Davis and Nancy New met over the use of welfare money to fund the volleyball arena, with Davis committing $4 million. New’s nonprofit later paid Favre $1.1 million for speaking engagements to help pay for the arena. Favre never gave the speeches and later repaid the money, although he did not repay $228,000 in interest.
Bryant’s attorneys wrote that the governor first learned that human services was involved in funding the volleyball arena in a text message he received from Favre on July 16, 2019.” I want you to know how much I love Nancy New and John Davis,” Favre wrote. . “What they’ve done for me and Southern Miss is amazing.”
Favre wrote that there are plans to hold youth workshops and clinics at the volleyball facility with a program led by Nancy New.
“And also I paid 3/4 of the Vball setup and the rest was a joint project with her and John that saved me 1.8 million,” Favre sent Bryant. “I have been advised today that she may not be able to fund her share. Me and we really need your help Governor and sorry to even talk about it.
Bryant’s attorneys wrote that “Favre has launched a campaign to aggressively lobby the governor to help cover the USM Volleyball Center debt”. They also wrote that Favre had failed to pay three-quarters of the construction costs and that social services had committed more than $1.8 million to the project.
According to court documents from Friday, Bryant and Favre met on September 4, 2019, with the new director of the Department of Human Services, retired FBI agent Christopher Freeze. Favre texted Bryant after the meeting: “Obviously we need your help and time is against us.” Favre also mentioned that the volleyball facility may be named after Bryant, who was in his final months as governor.
Bryant replied, “We will get there. It was an excellent meeting. But we have to obey the law. I’m too old for federal prison. He added a smiling emoji with sunglasses.
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