EXCLUSIVE: It has been months since the public has heard from Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Brett Favre regarding his alleged involvement in the Mississippi welfare fraud case that state auditors say funneled money to a new volleyball wellness center at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM).
The state of Mississippi is currently suing 38 people or companies in an attempt to claw back $24 million of the $77 million in federal welfare money, according to a report by Mississippi Today.
Favre, who helped in raising money for the USM facility, has denied knowing that a $5 million grant for the volleyball facility came from a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare fund through the Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC), a non-profit operated by Nancy New.
According to documents obtained by Fox News, the $5 million was procured by MCEC via a Block Grant from the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) in October 2017.
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“I have been unjustly smeared in the media,” Favre said in a statement provided exclusively to Fox News Digital. “I have done nothing wrong, and it is past time to set the record straight.
“No one ever told me, and I did not know, that funds designated for welfare recipients were going to the University or me. I tried to help my alma mater USM, a public Mississippi state university, raise funds for a wellness center. My goal was and always will be to improve the athletic facilities at my university.
“State agencies provided the funds to Nancy New’s charity, the Mississippi Community Education Center, which then gave the funds to the University, all with the full knowledge and approval of other State agencies, including the State-wide Institute for Higher Learning, the Governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office.
“I was told that the legal work to ensure that these funds could be accepted by the university was done by State attorneys and State employees.”
State auditor Shad White, the auditor who first discovered the misspending and fraud, told Fox News that the grant was approved by an attorney for the AG’s office, but that the “analysis was incorrect” for a few reasons.
“The volleyball court needed to be used to benefit the needy in Hattiesburg,” White said. “And fast-forward to today, what we know now is that the volleyball court has not been used to benefit the needy. So, this is an unallowable use of TANF funds for a few different reasons. And for those reasons, it doesn’t matter that the attorney signed off on this. What matters is that it simply is not an allowable use of TANF funds, and it’s our job in the auditor’s office to point that out when we see it.”
TANF funds are also not allowed for “brick and mortar” construction projects.
There have already been multiple guilty pleas in the case including John Davis, an official for MDHS, who pleaded guilty in September for conspiring to defraud the state of Mississippi.
White told Fox News that there is no documentation showing that Favre knew that the money was coming from a TANF fund, though White says Favre did know that it was coming from the agency that handles “programs that are geared toward helping the poor.”
“Based on the documents that have come out publicly, mainly through filings in the civil case, we can see text messages that show that Mr. Favre knew that the money that was being paid out was coming from John Davis, who is the head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and also coming from the non-profit that was receiving money from DHS,” White told Fox News Digital. “So, he knows that it’s government money basically, and he knows that the money is coming from the Department of Human Services.”
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“Now, whether or not Mr. Favre knew that this money was specifically coming from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, there are no documents out in the public right now that suggest that,” White continued. “There are no documents that suggest that he knew the precise laws and regulations around TANF funds. But he did know it was government money, and he did know that it was coming from this agency. And of course, that agency is the agency that is responsible for handling programs that are geared toward helping the poor.”
At the crux of Favre’s involvement is the $1.1 million he received for fundraising, which Favre reportedly gave to the university in order to assist in building the volleyball center.
“After I found out the money I was paid for fundraising radio spots came from federal welfare funds, I returned all of it,” Favre’s statement to Fox News Digital continued.
Favre has returned the $1.1 million but has yet to pay back the interest, thus why the state is suing him.
“The second piece of information in the audit that came out related to Mr. Favre was that he had been paid $1.1 million,” White told Fox News. “So, when we asked questions about ‘why did he get paid $1.1 million of welfare money?’ the non-profit gave us a contract – what they called a contract – that said Mr. Favre was supposed to give a keynote address and some speeches and cut a radio ad and do several other things.
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“Upon further investigation, we realized that he had not given any of those speeches, that there was no justifiable reason for him to be paid that $1.1 million under TANF regs (regulations) and the law. So, eventually we had to demand that money back from him. And he has, at this point, repaid the principal – the $1.1 million – but in every case when we have to demand money back, we always charge interest as well, per the law. And he has not repaid the interest on that $1.1 million which is why the state is now suing him, DHS as an agency is suing him, along with many, many others to try and get that money back.”
However, Favre’s attorney – Eric Herschmann – told Fox News Digital that Favre was never asked to appear for speaking events. According to Herschmann, Favre recorded commercials for the radio and never “no showed” a speaking event.
“Brett got paid for doing every radio spot that was requested,” Herschmann told Fox News. “He never got paid for a ‘no show’ appearance. Anyone who has claimed otherwise, does not know the true facts.”
White says that when Favre was asked if he gave the speeches and made the appearances, Favre said he did not.
Recent text messages recently revealed between Favre and New – who pleaded guilty to four counts of bribing a public official, two counts of fraud against the government, and six counts of wire fraud – show that it was Favre’s idea to record the commercials in order to provide more funding to USM for the facility, which had gone over budget.
In the text messages, Favre asks New if the public would be able to find out where the money came from.
“If you were to pay me is there anyway for the media can find out where it came from and how much?” Favre asked New in an October 2017 text message.
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“No, we never had that information publicized,” New responded. “I understand you being uneasy about that though. Let’s see what happens on Monday with the conversation with some of the folks at Southern. Maybe it will click with them. Hopefully.”
The messages between New and Favre have garnered new interest in Favre’s involvement as they seem to appear as if Favre was concerned with the origin of the money he was to be paid.
“Those sorts of text messages suggest that he didn’t want the information out, that he knew that there was something that suggested that this would not be favorable if it came out,” White told Fox News Digital. “And there are also text messages that show that information had been communicated to him by somebody at the university that they would be nervous about the money flowing for some of these projects.”
However, Herschmann told Fox News that Favre was concerned over the media learning that he was being paid by a not-for-profit, and not that the money was coming from a fund intended for the needy, as he had no knowledge that the money came from the welfare fund.
“Brett entered into a private agreement to record a publicity pitch for a not-for-profit,” Herschmann said. “Like most celebrities, he didn’t want his source of income to be public. That’s why he asked would it become public.”
“He had no idea that the payment came from TANF and had he known, he never would have accepted that money.”
Favre has not been criminally charged.