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In an ongoing battle, State Auditor Shad White fired back at Attorney General Lynn Fitch for not suing Favre to recover TANF funds.

“Fitch failed to sue Favre for everything he owes—and then sued to stop me from trying to get the money back, too. Just let me do the job, even if you won’t. I will fight in court for the right to get as much money back for the taxpayers as possible,” said State Auditor Shad White.

White made the scathing statement after a press release from AG Fitch.

In a lengthy release, Fitch said in part, “While my office and the Department of Human Services have sought to recoup funds misspent in the TANF lawsuit, we have been hamstrung from the beginning by a slow drip of information from the Auditor’s investigation, by repeated miscalculations, and now by a book rushed to print while we remain embroiled in a suit against nearly four dozen defendants. In fact, it was not until August 25, 2022, that the Auditor even delivered the full case file to our office for review – more than two and a half years following the Auditor’s February 6, 2020 announcement of indictments related to the TANF case with District Attorney Owens. The actions of the Auditor’s office are aid to our legal adversaries and a disservice to the people.”

The TANF Scandal

In 2016 Governor Bryant appointed John Davis to head the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Davis stopped his department’s competitive bidding process for contracts and during his term granted money to non-profits. The Mississippi Community Education Center received 65 million over four years and the Family Resource Center of Mississippi 45 million. The money was to be used to fund the Families First of Mississippi program.
john davis

John Davis

In February 2020, White’s office arrested 6 people for mishandling TANF(Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) funds, including the department’s recently retired director, John Davis. White said at that time, “The funds that were illegally obtained in this case were intended to help the poorest among us. The funds were instead taken by a group of influential people for their own benefit, and the scheme is massive. It ends today.”
Auditor White alleges 94 million in questionable spending, most of that to two non-profits, including the Mississippi Community Education Center. The auditing investigation showed a lot of those funds were made available to high-profile people including a former professional football player, Bret Favre. Governor Phil Bryant was also implicated as being a part of the scandal because of text messages between him and others involved. Additionally, White’s investigation triggered a federal investigation.

It’s complex and involves high-profile people

The complex case revealed a bevy of high-profile officials and celebrities and a pharmaceutical company were all somehow involved in receiving funds intended for the poorest and most needy in the state.
It is alleged by White that Favre was paid for speeches he never made and TANF funds were directed to a volleyball stadium at Favre’s alma mater. Other high-profile people named in the Auditor’s lawsuit include retired professional wrestlers Ted DiBiase and his two sons, Ted Jr. and Brett. The suit against Favre is civil, not criminal, and seeks to have TANF funds returned to the state.

A former Federal Prosecutor is hired

In May of 2022, Brad Pigott, a former federal prosecutor was hired to handle the case. Pigott filed a subpoena for communication between the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation and others. Included in that request was communications involving Governor Phil Bryant. The week after that filing Pigott was fired by Bob Anderson, the Director of DHS. Pigott believed the firing was political. In a statement to Mississippi Today, he said, “All I did, and I believe all that caused me to be terminated from representing the department or having anything to do with the litigation, was to try to get the truth about all of that. People are going to go to jail over this, at least the state should be willing to find out the truth of what happened.”

Pigott says it’s political

Pigott went on to say, “I am sure they can find a loyal Republican lawyer to do the work.”
Anderson initially claimed the termination was because Pigott had not informed his superiors of his plans to subpoena those documents. He later amended that statement to say it was because his department needed a bigger legal team.

Favre appeals

Favre filed to have the suits against him dismissed but that was rejected by a Hinds County judge. Favre appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court and, in October of 2023, was denied his wish to be removed as a defendant in the civil proceedings.

Several have pled guilty

  • Brett DiBiase pled guilty to making false statements and has yet to be sentenced. He also pled guilty to one federal charge of conspiracy to defraud the federal government.
  • Nancy and Zach New of the Mississippi Community Education Center pled guilty to bribing a public official, mail fraud, and fraud against the government. Nancy New also pled guilty to racketeering(dishonest and fraudulent business dealings).
  • John Davis pled guilty to one count of conspiracy and theft from a federally funded program. He also pled guilty in state court to 5 counts of conspiracy and 13 counts of defrauding the government. He was sentenced by the state to serve 90 years, with 58 suspended.
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