Mississippi's ex-Gov Phil Bryant subpoenaed in welfare fund scandal involving Brett Favre
A defendant in the sprawling Mississippi welfare fund scandal involving ex-NFL quarterback Brett Favre has subpoenaed former Governor Phil Bryant to produce documents related to the $5 million in financing of a University of Southern Mississippi volleyball facility.
The subpoena was filed on Monday, days after the state fired an attorney who was seeking to uncover the same information. Mississippi Today's Anna Wolfe first reported the subpoena.
Nancy New — a friend of Bryant's wife and former First Lady Deborah Bryant — and her son Zach New pleaded guilty in April to multiple counts of bribery and fraud in the ongoing welfare scandal. Her attorney filed the subpoena against Bryant. New is cooperating with the ongoing criminal prosecution as part of her plea agreement.
A state audit in 2000 determined that $94 million in federal funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program had been misappropriated in Mississippi. New and her son stand accused of funneling some of those funds intended for at-need Mississippi residents through a non-profit.
Brad Pigott, a former U.S. attorney who was leading the investigation for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, filed a lawsuit in May seeking to recoup roughly $24 million of the missing funds, with New and Favre named among 38 defendants. Pigott is the attorney the state fired last week.
The suit accuses Favre of accepting $1.1 million in welfare funds for no-show speaking engagements. Favre has since repaid the funds, but the state is still pursuing $228,000 in interest. New accused Bryant in a July court filing of directing her to pay the $1.1 million to Favre.
The lawsuit also accuses New of funneling $1.7 million in TANF funds to a Florida-based pharmaceutical startup call Prevacus that was run by Favre and his business partner VanLandingham.
Not included in the lawsuit is $5 million spent to build a volleyball facility at Southern Miss, Favre and Bryant's alma mater. Favre's daughter used to play on the volleyball team. Mississippi Today acquired a text message from Favre to VanLandingham stating that New funneled the $5 million through him to fund the volleyball facility.
“She has strong connections and gave me 5 million for Vball facility via grant money,” Favre wrote in 2018, per Mississippi Today.
Mississippi Today reported on July 13 that Pigott filed a subpoena seeking communications from the former governor and first lady and the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation. Pigott was fired on July 17.
Pigott told Mississippi Today that he was blocked form including the $5 million in the lawsuit. He told the New York Times on Saturday that he believes his firing was directly related to his inquiries into Southern Miss.
“I believe I was fired as a result of a pattern of orders from the Mississippi governor’s office concerning protecting an entity, called the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation, from any responsibility in this matter,” Pigott said.
MDHS welfare director Bob Anderson wrote in a Saturday statement that Pigott was dismissed because he filed the subpoena without consulting MDHS first.
“Although USM Athletic Foundation is not yet a party in this case, Brad Pigott issued an extensive subpoena to that entity without any prior discussion of the matter with MDHS,” the statement reads, per Mississippi Today.
New's attorney Gerry Bufkin explained to Mississippi Today why he filed a new subpoena seeking Bryant's communications regarding the volleyball facility.
“We have no confidence that the state will follow through with its subpoena or pursue the evidence wherever it leads,” Rufkin said. “We’re going to find the truth, even if we have to drag it kicking and screaming into the light.”
Bryant has not responded publicly to the subpoena. His spokesperson and three government offices also named in the subpoena including the USM Athletic Foundation declined requests for comment on Wednesday, according to Mississippi Today.