An investigative report published Tuesday by Mississippi Today shows that former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant helped former NFL quarterback Brett Favre finagle his way into millions of dollars of state welfare funds in order to build a new volleyball stadium at Southern Mississippi, where his daughter played volleyball.
New text messages, entered into court documents Monday as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit, shed more light on Bryant and Favre's roles in perpetuating what state auditors are calling the largest public fraud case in Mississippi's history. The texts were filed by a lawyer for Nancy New, a founder of a nonprofit called the Mississippi Community Education Center, which was tasked with spending tens of millions in federal welfare funds to help people in need. New worked with Favre and Bryant to pay Favre $600,000 for motivational speeches he reportedly never gave, and $1.1 million to promote a state poverty-fighting initiative. In all, Mississippi Today reports, the nonprofit leaders wrongly spent at least $77 million in public money that was intended to help the poor. New has pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts related to the fraud. Favre, who has paid back some of the state money, and Bryant, who left office in 2020, have not been charged.
The text messages between the parties, however, strongly suggest that Favre, at least, knew that what he was doing was better off being kept secret.
"If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?" Favre asked New in 2017 text message.
New responded by telling Favre that "we never have that information publicized," and then followed up writing: "Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!"
The three continued to keep in touch about the project. From Mississippi Today:
On Nov. 2, 2017, New texted Favre, “I saw the Gov last night … it’s all going to work out."Four days later, New’s nonprofit paid the first lump sum of $2.5 million. It paid another $2.5 million on Dec. 5, 2017, according to the state auditor’s office report released in 2020. Favre also received his first payment under the advertising agreement of $500,000 in December 2017.“Nancy Santa came today and dropped some money off,” Favre texted New that day, “thank you my goodness thank you. We need to setup the promo for you soon. Your way to kind.”
In 2019, Bryant fired the former director of Mississippi Department of Human Services John Davis after a tipster raised the alarm about fraud in the department. When Favre asked Bryant if the shakeup would affect the volleyball project, Bryant responded: "I will handle that… long story but had to make a change. But I will call Nancy and see what it will take.”
Bryant then texted New: “Just left Brett Favre. Can we help him with his project. We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects on course.”
That same day, New texted Favre about her upcoming meeting with Bryant: “He wants me to continue to help you and us get our project done."
In 2020, Mississippi Today asked Favre if he had discussed the volleyball project with the governor, to which Favre answered, “No.”
“Brett Favre has been honorable throughout this whole thing,” Favre’s attorney, Bud Holmes, told Mississippi Today.