An investigative report by Mississippi Today revealed Tuesday that former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant helped former NFL quarterback Brett Favre raise charitable funds 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 presented Monday in the civil lawsuit filed by the state of Mississippi over misused charitable funds. The texts were filed by a lawyer representing Nancy New, who has already pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts of bribery, fraud and racketeering for her role in the welfare scheme. Nova 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 have determined that 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 paid me, can the media find out where it came from and how much?” Favre asked New in 2017.
After telling Favre that “we’ve never had that information released,” she circled back to him the next day.
“Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He’s on board with us! We’re gonna do it!” Nova told Favre.
In another text sent in July 2019, Bryant told New that 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 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 social funds to the stadium project, and he did not address the texts in a statement to Mississippi Today, which 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 repaid $600,000 to the state of Mississippi, an amount he was paid for speeches he never gave. Favre was commissioned in 2017 and 2018 to promote a state anti-poverty initiative, receiving $1.1 million. The state auditor’s office reported that he initially returned $500,000 of the amount, but earlier this month, Favre was asked in a letter to repay the rest plus interest.
Then, in May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed a civil lawsuit against Favre for failing to repay interest on the $1.1 million that totaled $228,000.
According to the text messages in the archive obtained by Mississippi Today, the $1.1 million agreement with the state was another means of financing the volleyball stadium project.
Reuters contributed to this report.