JACKSON, Miss. — Recently released text messages show how deeply involved Mississippi’s governor was in directing more than $1 million in charity money to Brett Favre to help pay for one of the retired NFL quarterback’s pet projects.
Instead of the money going to help poor families in one of the nation’s poorest states, as intended, it was channeled through a nonprofit group and was spent on a new $5 million volleyball facility at a university that the football star and the governor both. was present
One of the texts from 2017 showed that Republican Governor Phil Bryant, who is leaving office in 2020, was “on board” with the arrangement. The state is suing Favre and others, alleging they misused millions of dollars in charity money. The director of the nonprofit has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Mississippi’s largest public corruption case in decades.
The texts were in court documents filed Monday in state court by an attorney for the nonprofit known as the Mississippi Community Education Center. Messages between Favre and the center’s executive director, Nancy New, included references to Bryant. The documents also included messages between Bryant and Favre and Bryant and New.
“Just got off Brett Farve,” Bryant wrote to New on July 16, 2019, misspelling the athlete’s last name. “Can we help him with his project. We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we continue your projects.”
Nova replied: “I’d like the opportunity to follow all the good stuff we’re working on, especially projects like Brett’s.”
Later that day, New texted Favre to let him know she had met with the governor.
“I love John so much. And so do you,” Favre replied to New, referring to then-director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, John Davis.
The texts also showed a discussion between Favre and New about arranging payment from the Human Services Department through the nonprofit to Favre for speaking engagements, with Favre then saying he would direct the money to the volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Favre played college football in Hattiesburg 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 New on Aug. 3, 2017: “If you were to pay me, can the media find out where it came from and how much?”
New replied: “No, we’ve never had that information released. I understand you’re worried about it though. Let’s see what happens on Monday with the conversation with some of the people at Southern. Maybe it will click with them. Hopefully.”
Favre replied: “Okay thanks.”
The next day, New texted Favre: “Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He’s on board with us! We’re going to do it!”
Favre replied: “Amazing I had to hear that for sure.”
According to a previous court filing, New’s nonprofit made two payments of charity money to Favre Enterprises, the athlete’s business: $500,000 in December 2017 and $600,000 in June 2018.
On December 27, 2017, Favre texted Nova: “Nancy Santa came today and dropped off some money (two smiley emojis) thank you my god thank you.”
“Yes he did,” New replied. “He felt you were pretty good this year!”
Attorneys for Favre did not immediately respond to a phone message Wednesday from The Associated Press.
In a July 11 court filing, New’s attorney wrote that Bryant directed her to pay $1.1 million in welfare money to Favre through the education center for “speaking at events, keynote speaking, radio and promotional events, and business partner development.”
In July, a spokesman for Bryant said allegations that the governor improperly spent the money were false and that Bryant had asked the state auditor to investigate possible welfare fraud.
Bryant served two terms as governor and could not run again in 2019 due to term limits. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi.
New and her son, Zachary New, who helped run the nonprofit, pleaded guilty in April to charges of misspending welfare money. They are awaiting trial and have agreed to testify against others.
Favre has not been charged with any criminal offense.
In May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services filed a civil lawsuit against Favre, three former professional wrestlers and several other people and businesses to try to recover millions of misspent charity dollars. The lawsuit said the defendants “swindled” more than $20 million from the anti-poverty Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
About 1,800 Mississippi households received payments from the program in 2021, according to the Department of Human Services. A family of three must have a monthly income below $680 to qualify, and the current monthly benefit for that family is $260. Payments are allowed for up to five years.
In pleading guilty, Nancy and Zachary New admitted to participating in spending $4 million of welfare money for the volleyball facility.
The mother and son also admitted to directing charity money to Prevacus Inc., a Florida-based company that was trying to develop a concussion drug. Favre said in interviews that he supported Prevacus.
Mississippi Auditor Shad White said Favre was paid for speeches but did not show up. Favre repaid the money, but White said in October that he still owed $228,000 in interest.
In a Facebook post when he paid back the first $500,000, Favre said he didn’t know the money was coming from welfare funds. He also said his charity has provided millions of dollars to needy children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.