Newly disclosed text messages show the extent of the Mississippi governor’s involvement in channeling more than $1 million in welfare money to Brett Favre to help pay for a retired NFL pet project.
Instead of the money going to help low-income families in one of the poorest states in the country, as intended, it was channeled through a nonprofit group and was spent on a new $5 million volleyball facility at a college that was the soccer star and governor. Both attended.
One transcript from 2017 showed that Republican Governor Phil Bryant, who left office in 2020, was “ready” with the arrangement. The state is suing Favre and others, alleging that they mis-spent millions of dollars in welfare money. The director of the nonprofit organization has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the largest public corruption case in Mississippi in decades.
The transcripts were in court documents filed Monday in state court by an attorney for the nonprofit organization known as the Mississippi Community Education Center. Messages between Favre and the center’s executive director, Nancy New, included references to Bryant. The documents also included letters between Bryant, Favre, Bryant and New.
Payment details arranged in text messages
Bryant wrote a new text message on July 16, 2019, misspelling the athlete’s last name: “I just left Brett Farf.” “Can we help him with his project. We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects on the right track.”
“I would appreciate the opportunity to follow up on all the good things we’re working on, especially projects like Britt,” New replied.
Later that day, Neo sent Favre a text to tell him she was going to meet the governor.
Favre responded to Neo, referring to Mississippi’s director of human services at the time, John Davis: “I love John very much. And you too.”
Brett Favre: Will the media find out that we’re using sponsorship money to help the poorest residents of the poorest US states to build a volleyball center?
Nancy Neo: Nah. Oh yeah, the governor is fully on board! >
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The transcripts also showed a discussion between Favre and New about arranging for payment from the Department of Human Services through the nonprofit to Favre in exchange for speaking engagements, with Favre then saying he would direct the money to a volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Favre played college football in Hattiesburg before transferring to the NFL in 1991, and his daughter started playing on the volleyball team there in 2017.
According to court documents, Favre sent a new text message on August 3, 2017: “If you’re going to pay me, is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?”
Neo replied, “No, this information was never released. I understand you’re uncomfortable about that though. Let’s see what happens on Monday with the conversation with some people at Southern. Maybe you’ll click with them. Hopefully.”
“Okay, thanks,” Favre replied.
The next day, Favre sent Favre a new text: “Wow, he just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He’s on the plane with us! We’ll get that done!”
“Wow, you definitely needed to hear that,” Favre replied.
According to an earlier lawsuit, the nonprofit New’s made two welfare payments to Favre Enterprises, the athletes’ company: $500,000 in December 2017 and $600,000 in June 2018.
On December 27, 2017, Favre wrote a new text message: “Nancy Santa came in today and dropped some money (two smiley emojis) Thank you God, thank you.”
“Yes,” Neo replied. “You’ve felt so good this year!”
Favre’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a phone message Wednesday from the Associated Press.
In a July 11 court filing, New’s attorney wrote that Bryant directed her to pay $1.1 million in welfare funds to Favre through the Education Center “to speak at events, keynote speeches, radio and promotional events, and develop business partners.”
In July, a spokesperson for Bryant said allegations that the governor had improperly disbursed money were false and that Bryant had asked the state auditor to investigate possible welfare fraud.
Bryant served two terms as governor and was unable to run again in 2019 due to term limits. He received his BA from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Favre is not charged with criminal offenses
Neo and her son, Zachary New, who helped run the nonprofit, pleaded guilty in April to charges of misusing welfare money. They are waiting for the verdict and have agreed to testify against others.
Favre has not been charged with any criminal offenses.
In May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed a civil lawsuit against Favre, three former professional wrestlers, and several other people and companies in an effort to recover millions of lost social dollars. The lawsuit said the defendants “wasted” more than $20 million from the Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families to Fight Poverty.
About 1,800 families in Mississippi 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 this family is $260. Payments are allowed for up to five years.
In pleading guilty, Nancy and Zachary New pleaded guilty to co-spending $4 million in welfare money for the volleyball facility.
The mother and son also admitted directing welfare money to Prevacus, a Florida-based company that was trying to develop a drug for concussion. Favre has said in interviews that he supports Prevacus.
Mississippi auditor Chad White said Favre was paid for his speeches but did not turn up. Favre repaid the amount, but White said in October he still owed $228,000 in interest.
In a Facebook post when he paid off his first $500,000, Favre said he didn’t know the money came from welfare funds. He also said his charitable foundation has given millions of dollars to poor children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.