In a statement to Fox News Digital, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre said he had been “unjustly smeared in the media” over his role in the Mississippi welfare fraud scandal that has already yielded guilty pleas for three major players in the case over misspent federal funds.
Favre has not been charged with a crime after money directed to a new volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi was unlawfully pulled from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund, money from the federal government distributed to each U.S. state. Under the direction of director John Davis, the state’s department of human services channeled TANF money to nonprofits, including one that paid $5 million for the building of the facility at Favre’s urging.
Five people, including nonprofit employees Nancy and Zach New and Davis, have pled guilty to state charges in the scandal, encompassing an estimated $77 million of misspent funds overall.
Text messages showed Favre regularly communicated with state officials about the facility, which can’t legally be covered by TANF funds as a “brick and mortar” expenditure.
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“No one ever told me, and I did not know, that funds designated for welfare recipients were going to the University or me,” Favre said in the statement. “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.”
Favre also denied that he was asked to deliver speeches for which he did not show. He’s being sued by the state of Mississippi for interest of the $1.1 million he was paid for cutting radio spots and agreeing to give those speeches, according to the Mississippi state auditor. Favre has refunded the $1.1 million itself.
Within the text messages, made public through court filings in September, was an exchange Favre had with Nancy New:
“If you were to pay me is there anyway for the media can find out where it came from and how much?” Favre asked, followed by New reassuring him that the info would not become public.
The audit also found that Prevacus, a biomedical startup featuring Favre as its top investor, received TANF funds.
“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,” Mississippi state auditor Shad 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.”
White, whose office has been a central figure in unspooling the breadth of the scandal, said on the ESPN “Daily” podcast in late September that a large swath of the negative messages into his office came from Wisconsin. He said his office’s role was to deliver information that prosecutors could ultimately use to make decisions but that his office had no say in what happened thereafter.
“I had the facts on my side, so over time, I knew that the statements we were making and the findings that we had in our audit would be proven out,” White said on the podcast. “It’s just in that interim period, where it takes the public some time to figure out, ‘Oh wait the state auditor’s not making this up,’ you have to weather a ton of criticism and, honestly, threats. … Most of the hateful messages that I got were mainly from the Wisconsin area. You just have to ignore it at the end of the day. That person doesn’t live here … I’m never going to meet them and I have to keep doing my job.”
Follow JR Radcliffe on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.