The state of Mississippi is investigating what it says is the state’s largest welfare fraud case in state history. State Auditor Shad White is alleging involvement by the former governor, Phil Bryant, and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Although the state is calling it “welfare fraud,” the case does not involve anyone falsely claiming support benefits. Instead, it involves using taxpayer money to pay individuals for supposed work done one behalf of non-profit organizations using money meant to help the poor. The result has been multiple charges against several people for a variety of white collar crimes.
The original case
The case originally broke in 2020 when several people employed by the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) were arrested for embezzling millions of dollars meant to support the poor and using it for their own means. For example, one allegation said they were paying for a luxury rehab center in California for former pro wrestler Brett DiBiese while claiming he was teaching others about drug and alcohol abuse at a local non-profit at the same time. The head of the DHS, John Davis, has faced over 25 counts of bribery, fraud, conspiracy and embezzlement over the past couple of years.
The Brett Favre connection
Mr. White accused Favre of receiving payments of over a million dollars of welfare money for appearances that never happened and only repaid the money when Mr. White insisted he do so. One of the defendants in the larger case, Nancy New, is now working with prosecutors and stated that former governor Phil Bryant requested the payments to Favre. Favre denies the charges.
A separate, new allegation involves Favre, New and Bryant of colluding to use millions in federal welfare funds for a new volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi, which is Favre’s and Bryant’s alma matter and where Favre’s daughter played. New has provided copies of text messages to the court where they discuss the matter.
What makes these actions illegal?
Federal welfare dollars pass to the states for distribution. Both federal and state laws have strict rules about how this money is used. We often associate welfare fraud with an individual lying on a government form in order to receive benefits. In this case, the people in charge of those benefits are the ones lying about how they are disbursing the money. The result is a welfare fraud case much larger in scope than normal, implicating many people.
Fraud of any type is usually complex and involves lengthy investigations. This case has been unraveling for over two years and involves many players and many different charges of not just fraud, but also bribery, corruption, embezzlement and conspiracy. Investigators are far from finished examining this case and all of the people involved. Even though they have not yet charged Favre and Bryant as of the writing of this post, they could still bring charges in the near future.