Brett Favre files motion to dismiss Mississippi lawsuit against him in welfare fraud scheme
By Alta Spells, Dianne Gallagher and Eric Levenson, CNN
In a motion filed Monday, retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and Favre Enterprises Inc. asked a Mississippi court to dismiss a civil complaint filed against him by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, seeking to retrieve funds distributed to Favre as part of what the state calls a statewide welfare fraud scheme.
The civil lawsuit against Favre alleges that the Mississippi Community Education Center directly paid Favre $1.1 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program funds for promotional ads and speaking appearances that the state auditor said never occurred.
Favre has said he had been asking the state for funds to build a new volleyball stadium at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, where his daughter played volleyball at the time. The nonprofit news organization Mississippi Today, which has covered the scheme for several years, has reported that at least $5 million of the welfare funds were channeled to the new facility.
The former Green Bay Packers star has insisted he didn’t know the millions in grant money he helped secure for the volleyball center at the university or the $1.1 million he was paid directly for a public service announcement campaign came from welfare funds.
Favre returned $500,000 in May 2020 and repaid the remaining $600,000 in October 2021 after the state auditor issued a demand letter for it, according to the auditor’s office. But the auditor’s office maintains Favre still owes $228,000 in interest payments.
In a statement Tuesday to CNN, the Department of Human Services declined further comment.
“While MDHS understands there is an exceptional amount of publicity surrounding this case, we don’t try cases in the press,” spokesman Mark Jones said. “We will allow the court’s rulings be the final word on these matters.”
Favre says he was ‘unjustly smeared in the media’
In October, Favre issued a statement saying he was being “unjustly smeared in the media” and wanted to “set the record straight” over his connection to the massive welfare fraud scheme in his home state.
In this latest filing, attorneys for Favre continue to maintain that he did nothing wrong and was not aware that the funds were intended for welfare recipients.
“It is apparent that MDHS has sued Favre, a Mississippi and national celebrity, in an effort to deflect responsibility for its own egregious wrongdoing in allowing $94 million of its public funds to be misspent — funds for which MDHS itself admits it was ‘exclusively responsible,'” the filing said.
In a statement to CNN Monday afternoon, Favre’s attorney Eric Herschmann said in part, “Today, after a thorough investigation, we filed a motion to dismiss the complaint against Mr. Favre. MDHS’s lawsuit is nothing more than a baseless attempt to blame Brett Favre for its own failure to oversee the welfare funds placed in its trust. Mr. Favre never had any control over how Mississippi spent its welfare funds. He never made any misrepresentations to anyone.”
“As the State Auditor has acknowledged, Mr. Favre never knew welfare funds were involved in the first place. Once he found out, he returned all of the funds he received — six months before MDHS filed its lawsuit. As the State Auditor also has acknowledged, Mr. Favre’s conduct deserves applause, not a frivolous lawsuit,” continued the statement.
The filing also contradicts claims by the state auditor that Favre never performed any services for the $1.1 million in TANF funding that he received. The filing said, “Favre performed services pursuant to the MCEC/Favre Contract by promoting Families First of Mississippi, the joint initiative between (former) Governor (Phil) Bryant, MCEC, and MDHS to assist in providing government and nonprofit services to needy families,” but did not specifically name any of the services.
Logan Reeves, the communications director for the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor told CNN he had not seen the filing, but said, it didn’t come as a surprise to him.
“As far as this office is concerned, Mr. Favre still owes taxpayers in Mississippi $228,000 which represents the interest portion of the demand he received for non-performance of the contract in question,” said Reeves.
Text messages reveal Favre’s concerns about media publicity
Several private text messages between Favre, Bryant and other figures involved have been revealed since the civil lawsuit was filed. The text messages indicate Favre was concerned about the source of the money coming to light.
In an August 2017 conversation, Favre wrote to Nancy New, the founder of Mississippi Community Education Center, about his concerns about media publicity.
“If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?” Favre wrote.
“No, we never have had that information publicized,” New said.
The next day, New texted Favre with an update: “Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!”
Other texts show Bryant worked to help Favre obtain funds.
Other text messages dating to July 2019 show Favre texted Bryant numerous times asking if the funding for the volleyball complex would be secured. Bryant warned that proper approval was needed.
“Brett entered into a private agreement to record a publicity pitch for a not-for-profit,” Herschmann, Favre’s attorney, said when the texts became public. “Like most celebrities, he didn’t want his source of income to be public. That’s why he asked would it become public.”
New has pleaded guilty to several criminal charges related to the scheme. Bryant has denied any wrongdoing and is not named in the state’s lawsuit.
Neither Favre nor Bryant have been criminally charged with anything related to scheme.
Favre and Favre Enterprises are asking that the claims against them be dismissed and request any other relief that the court finds to be appropriate.
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CNN’s Amir Vera contributed to this report.