“Just left Brett Farve (sic). Can we help him with his project,” Bryant wrote to Nancy New, the founder of the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center, in a July 2019 message. “We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects going.”
In a separate conversation nearly two years ago, Favre wrote to New about his concerns about media coverage.
“If you paid me, can the media find out where it came from and how much?” Favre wrote in an August 2017 message.
“No, we never had that information released,” New said.
The next day, New texted Favre with an update: “Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He’s on board with us! We’re going to do it!”
More than two years later, Bryant texted New to ask if she had received any of the new programs through the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS). New responded, in part, that “somebody” was “definitely pulling for us behind the scenes,” and thanked Bryant. He responded with a smiley face emoji.
The text messages were included in a legal filing Monday as part of a civil lawsuit brought by the Mississippi DHS related to misspent welfare funds. Attorney Thomas Bufkin, who represents New’s non-profit Mississippi Community Education Center, one of the defendants, included the texts as part of a motion to compel Bryant to produce additional documents.
In April, New and her son were convicted for their roles in a scheme to use welfare funds for the construction of the volleyball center. Neither Bryant nor Favre has been charged with wrongdoing.
Bryant’s attorney William M. Quin II issued a statement in response to the filing.
“Governor Bryant notified Nancy New’s attorney that he would produce the requested documents even though he is not a party to the lawsuit. All documents are privileged, so Governor Bryant asked New’s attorney to agree to a protective order that would allow the documents. for to be used in court with certain reasonable restrictions,” Quin said.
“Cases should be tried in courts where rules of evidence govern and privileges are respected. They should not be tried in the press, where innuendo and speculation are sometimes confused with real facts. It seems that New’s lawyer prefers to try his client’s case . in the latter as opposed to the former.”
Favre’s attorney Bud Holmes denied any wrongdoing. “From the very beginning, Brett has been honorable from day one to this day,” he said.
University of Southern Mississippi did not respond to a request for comment.
How we got here
The eight-month long investigation showed that the department gave more than $98 million to two nonprofits: The Mississippi Community Education Center and the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi.
Of the $98 million, $94 million was “questionable,” meaning it was either definitively misspent or auditors were unable to determine whether it was legally spent. Most of the money, given over three years, from 2016 to 2019, came from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, state auditor Shad White said.
Among the “questionable” expenses are a series of payments made to Favre by the Mississippi Community Education Center.
The audit shows Favre Enterprises was paid $500,000 in December 2017 and $600,000 in June 2018 for speaking engagements at multiple events. The auditor’s report, on the other hand, states that “upon a brief review of those dates, auditors were able to determine that the individual contracted did not speak nor was present for those events.”
A subsequent audit conducted by an accounting firm in Maryland found that more than $77 million was improperly used by the state’s welfare program through nonprofits.
Favre, a Mississippi native, earned millions of dollars during his stellar NFL career from 1991 to 2010, primarily as a quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
“I have never received money for obligations that I did not fulfill,” Favre said in a tweet in May 2020. “… I was not aware that the money that was dispersed was paid from funds not intended for that purpose, and because of that I will repay the whole amount back to Mississippi.”
Holmes, his lawyer, said Wednesday that Favre did not know the origin of the funds.
“He had no idea where it came from. When it developed later that this money he was being paid for speaking came out of money designed by the government … for the less fortunate or poor people, Brett paid it back,” said Holmes.
CNN’s Gregory Lemos and Kelly Mena contributed to this report.