JACKSON, Miss –
Newly uncovered text messages show just how much a Mississippi governor was involved in getting the state to pay more than $1 million in welfare payments to Brett Favre to fund one of the retired NFL quarterback’s pet projects.
Rather than the money intended to help low-income families in one of the poorest states in the country, as intended, it was funneled through a nonprofit group and spent on a new $5 million volleyball facility at a university where the soccer star and governor work both were there.
One of the 2017 texts showed that Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who left office in 2020, was “on board” with the agreement. The state is suing Favre and others for wasting millions of dollars in welfare funds. The nonprofit’s director has pleaded guilty to Mississippi’s biggest public corruption case in decades.
The texts were in documents filed in state court Monday by an attorney for the nonprofit known as the Mississippi Community Education Center. Messages between Favre and the center’s executive director, Nancy New, contained references to Bryant. The documents also included messages between Bryant and Favre and Bryant and New.
New pleaded guilty to misappropriation of welfare funds in April, as did her son Zachary New, who helped run the nonprofit. They are awaiting sentencing and have agreed to testify against others. Favre has not been charged with any criminal misconduct.
“Just left Brett Farve,” Bryant New wrote on July 16, 2019, misspelling the athlete’s last name. “Can we help him with his project? We should meet soon to see how I can ensure we keep your projects on track.”
New replied, “I’d love to have the opportunity to follow up on all the good things we’re working on, especially projects like Brett’s.”
Later that day, New Favre texted Favre to let him know that she was meeting with the governor.
“I love John so much. And you too,” Favre New replied, referring to then-director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, John Davis.
The lyrics also showed a discussion between Favre and New about arranging the Human Services Department’s payment to Favre for speaking engagements, with Favre then saying he would pass the money on to the University of Southern Mississippi volleyball facility.
Favre played football at the University of Hattiesburg before joining the NFL in 1991. His daughter started playing on the school’s volleyball team in 2017.
According to court documents, Favre New wrote on August 3, 2017, “If you paid me, can the media still find out where and how much?”
New replied: “No, we never released that information. However, I understand that you are uncomfortable about this. Let’s see what happens Monday with the conversation with some people from Southern. Maybe it will click for them. Hopefully.”
Favre replied: “OK thanks.”
The next day, New Favre wrote: “Wow just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He’s on board with us! We will sort it out!”
Favre replied: “Great, I had to hear that.”
According to a previous court filing, New’s nonprofit made two Social Security payments to Favre Enterprises, the athlete’s company: $500,000 in December 2017 and $600,000 in June 2018.
On December 27, 2017, Favre New wrote: “Nancy Santa came in today and dropped off some money (two smiling emojis). Thank you, my goodness, thank you.”
“Yes he did,” New replied. “He thought you were pretty good this year!”
Favre’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
In a July 11 court filing, News’ attorney wrote that Bryant directed her to pay Favre $1.1 million in welfare through the education center for “speaking at events, keynote addresses, radio and promotional events, and developing business partners.” .
In July, a Bryant spokesman said claims the governor had improperly spent the money were false and that Bryant had asked the state auditor to investigate possible welfare fraud.
Billy Quinn, an attorney representing Bryant, told the AP Wednesday that Bryant did not direct New to make the $1.1 million payment to Favre. Quinn said a careful review of the court papers will show “there is no evidence of this. And that’s because it didn’t happen.”
Bryant served two terms as governor and was unable to run again in 2019 due to term restrictions. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi.
In May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed a civil lawsuit against Favre, three former pro wrestlers and several other individuals and companies to try to recover millions of misinvested welfare dollars. The lawsuit alleges the defendants “wasted” more than $20 million from the anti-poverty program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
About 1,800 Mississippi households received payments from the program in 2021, according to the Department of Human Services. A family of three must have a monthly income of less than $680 to qualify and the current monthly benefit for that family is $260. Payments are permitted for up to five years.
Nancy and Zachary New pleaded guilty and admitted taking part in spending $4 million in welfare funds on the volleyball facility.
The mother and son also admitted funneling welfare funds to Prevacus Inc., a Florida-based company trying to develop a concussion drug. Favre has said in interviews that he supports Prevacus.
Mississippi auditor Shad White said Favre was paid to speak but did not appear. Favre repaid the money, but White said in October he still owed $228,000 in interest.
In a Facebook post as he repaid the first $500,000, Favre said he didn’t know the money came from social funds. He also said his charity has given millions of dollars to poor children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.