An investigative report by Mississippi Today revealed Tuesday that former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant helped former NFL quarterback Brett Favre obtain welfare funds in order to help build a new volleyball center at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The news organization reviewed text messages from 2017 and 2019 that were filed Monday in the state of Mississippi's civil lawsuit over misspent welfare funds. The texts were filed by an attorney representing Nancy New, who has already pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts of bribery, fraud and racketeering for her role in the welfare scheme. New was the founder of the Mississippi Community Education Center, which was tasked with spending tens of millions in federal welfare funds to help the state.
State auditors determined nonprofit leaders misspent at least $77 million in welfare funds in the largest case of public fraud in Mississippi history.
The texts show Favre, New and Bryant discussing how to divert at least $5 million in welfare funds to build a volleyball stadium at Southern Miss. Favre played football at Southern Miss, and his daughter was a volleyball player there at the time some of the texts were sent.
"If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?" Favre asked New in 2017.
After telling Favre that "we never have that information publicized," she circled back to him the next day.
"Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!" New told Favre.
In another text sent in July 2019, Bryant told New he had just finished meeting with Favre and asked her if they could help him with his project.
Favre's attorney, Bud Holmes, denied to Mississippi Today that the former quarterback knew he received welfare funds.
"Brett Favre has been honorable throughout this whole thing," Holmes told the news organization.
Favre had told the outlet in 2020 that he had not discussed the volleyball stadium project with Bryant.
Bryant, who left office in January 2020, has long denied helping direct welfare funds to the stadium project, and he did not address the texts in a statement to Mississippi Today that accused New's defense team of being "more concerned with pretrial publicity than they are with civil justice."
Mississippi Today reported that the volleyball stadium is not part of the state's civil lawsuit. Favre and Bryant have not been criminally charged.
Last year, Favre paid back $600,000 to the state of Mississippi, an amount he had been paid for speeches he never gave. Favre was commissioned in 2017 and 2018 to promote a state poverty-fighting initiative, receiving $1.1 million. The state auditor's office reported that he initially gave back $500,000 of the amount, but earlier this month, Favre was asked in a letter to repay the remainder plus interest.
Then, in May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed a civil lawsuit against Favre because he had not paid back interest on the $1.1 million that amounted to $228,000.
According to the text messages in the filing obtained by Mississippi Today, the $1.1 million deal with the state was another means of funding the volleyball stadium project.
Reuters contributed to this report.