Brett Favre denies wrongdoing in welfare case, blames media

Visiting Brett Favre's hometown, Kiln, Mississippi (2:05)

Brett Favre is Kiln, Mississippi's most famous son. But now, he's linked to a welfare scandal that directly affects the needy in a state with the nation's highest poverty rate. (2:05)

Brett Favre said he has done nothing wrong and has been "smeared" in the media in response to his involvement in a sprawling welfare investigation in Mississippi, according to a statement given to Fox News Digital.

"I have been unjustly smeared in the media," Favre said in the statement, which Fox News Digital published Tuesday. "I have done nothing wrong, and it is past time to set the record straight.

"No one ever told me, and I did not know, that funds designated for welfare recipients were going to the University or me. I tried to help my alma mater USM [University of Southern Mississippi], 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."

According to a Mississippi state audit, $77 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds were diverted from the poorest people in America's poorest state toward rich and powerful Mississippians. Six people have been arrested in the case, five of whom have pleaded guilty to state charges. Favre has not been criminally charged but is a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by the state.

His alma mater, Southern Miss, received $5 million in TANF money, transferred from the Department of Human Services to a nonprofit and, eventually, to USM's Athletic Foundation, the audit said. A volleyball facility, Wellness Center, was later built on campus. Text messages show Favre pushed for funding for a volleyball facility when his daughter was on the team.

"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," Favre's statement continued, "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."

Mississippi auditor Shad White, who has investigated the case, disagreed with Favre's recounting of events.

"Obviously, Mr. Favre knew that he was being paid in government funds, based on the texts," White told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "He knew that those funds were coming from the Department of Human Services. He's obviously acknowledged that he needed to repay those funds, too."

According to the state audit and a civil lawsuit, Favre also was paid $1.1 million from TANF funds for speeches White said Favre never made. He eventually paid back the money, but the state is suing him for $228,000 in interest.

Favre's attorney, Eric Herschmann, told Fox that Favre "never got paid for a 'no show' appearance. Anyone who has claimed otherwise, does not know the true facts." He also told Fox the ex-quarterback instead "got paid for doing every radio spot that was requested."

Herschmann has not responded to ESPN's requests for comment on Favre's involvement and could not be reached Tuesday.

The audit also said Prevacus, a company developing a concussion drug in which Favre is the top investor and stockholder, received TANF funds.

Favre's longtime attorney, Bud Holmes, reportedly was replaced on the welfare case last month with Herschmann, a former top lawyer in the Trump White House. Herschmann told Axios that Favre had "no idea that welfare funds were being used or that others were involved in illegal conduct."

According to text messages made public in the civil lawsuit, Favre asked New: "If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?" New has since pleaded guilty to fraud.

Favre continued to press state officials for money even after being told by then-governor Phil Bryant that misusing public funds could be illegal, texts show.

According to the state audit, New's nonprofit agreed to a sublease with the university's athletic foundation for "a multi-purpose wellness center on the University's campus," which White told ESPN was an attempt to legally substantiate the use of TANF funds. New was on the Athletic Foundation's board at the time.

"In this case [what happened was], 'OK, well, if we lease this volleyball court using TANF funds, the way we'll justify it is the court will be used as the sort of wellness center for the community,'" White told ESPN. White said TANF funds were used improperly.

John Davis, who ran the Department of Human Services, has also pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the state. Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens has declined to comment on Favre but has told ESPN that state and federal investigators continue to look into the case.