Text messages link Favre, welfare money, volleyball facility

·3 min read

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The governor of Mississippi in 2017 was “on board” with a plan for a nonprofit group to pay Brett Favre more than $1 million in welfare grant money so the retired NFL quarterback could help fund a university volleyball facility, according to a text messages between Favre and the director of the nonprofit.

Court documents filed Monday by an attorney for the Mississippi Community Education Center contain text messages between Favre and the center's executive director, Nancy New, that include references to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who left office in 2020.

Nancy New and her son, Zachary New, who helped run the nonprofit, pleaded guilty in April to charges of misspending welfare money that was intended to help some of the poorest people in the nation. They await sentencing and have agreed to testify against others in Mississippi's largest public corruption case in decades.

In May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed a civil lawsuit against Favre, three former pro wrestlers and several other people and businesses to try to recover millions of misspent welfare dollars. The lawsuit said the defendants “squandered” more than $20 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families anti-poverty program.

In pleading guilty, Nancy and Zachary New acknowledged taking part in spending $4 million of welfare money for a volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi.

The mother and son also acknowledged directing welfare money to Prevacus Inc., a Florida-based company that was trying to develop a concussion drug. Favre has said in interviews that he supported Prevacus.

The filing in a Mississippi state court included text message exchanges between Favre and Nancy New about arranging payment from the Mississippi Department of Human Services through the nonprofit to Favre for speaking engagements, with Favre then saying he would direct the money to the volleyball facility.

Favre played football at the University of Southern Mississippi before going to the NFL in 1991, and his daughter started playing on the volleyball team there in 2017.

According to court documents, Favre texted Nancy New on Aug. 3, 2017: “If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?”

Nancy New responded: “No, we never have had that information publicized. 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.”

Favre responded: “Ok thanks.”

The next day, Nancy New texted Favre: “Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!”

Favre responded: “Awesome I needed to hear that for sure.”

Bryant, a Republican, served two terms and governor and could not run again in 2019 because of term limits. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi.

In a July 11 court filing, Nancy New's attorney wrote that Bryant directed her to pay $1.1 million in welfare money to Favre through the Mississippi Community Education Center for “speaking at events, keynote speaking, radio and promotional events, and business partner development.” A Bryant spokesperson said in July that the allegations against the former governor are false and that Bryant had asked the state auditor to investigate possible welfare fraud.

Favre has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing. Mississippi Auditor Shad White said Favre was paid for speeches but did not show up. Favre has repaid the money, but White said in October that Favre still owed $228,000 in interest.

In a Facebook post when he repaid the first $500,000, Favre said he didn’t know the money he received came from welfare funds. He also said his charity had provided millions of dollars to poor children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.

Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press