The Mississippi Department of Human Services on Monday sued retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and three former professional wrestlers, along with other individuals and companies, to try to recover millions of wasted welfare dollars that were meant to help some of the poorest people in the US
The lawsuit says the defendants “squandered” more than $20 million in money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families anti-poverty program.
The lawsuit was filed less than two weeks after a mother and son, who ran a nonprofit group and education company in Mississippi, pleaded guilty to state criminal charges related to the improper spending. Nancy New, 69, and Zachary New, 39, have agreed to testify against others in what State Auditor Shad White has called Mississippi’s biggest public corruption case in two decades.
Earlier in 2020, Nancy New, Zachary New, former Mississippi Department of Human Services Executive Director John Davis, and three others were indicted in state court, with prosecutors saying the welfare money was he had squandered on items like drug rehab in Malibu, California, for former professional wrestler Brett DiBiase.
DiBiase is a defendant in the lawsuit filed Monday in Hinds County Circuit Court, as are his father and brother, who were also professional wrestlers, Ted DiBiase Sr. and Ted “Teddy” DiBiase Jr.
Ted DiBiase Sr. was known as “The Million Dollar Man” while wrestling. He is a Christian evangelist and motivational speaker, and ran Heart of David Ministries Inc., which received $1.7 million in welfare grants in 2017 and 2018 for mentorship, marketing and other services, according to the lawsuit.
Last year, White demanded repayment of $77 million in wasted welfare funds from various individuals and groups, including $1.1 million paid to Favre, who lives in Mississippi. Favre has not been charged with any criminal offense.
White said Favre was paid for the speeches but did not show up. Favre paid the money back, but White said in October that Favre still owed $228,000 in interest. In a Facebook post when he paid the first $500,000, Favre said he didn’t know the money he received came from welfare funds. He also said that his charity had provided millions of dollars to poor children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.
Months ago, the auditor’s office turned over claims for reimbursement of ill-spent welfare money to the Mississippi attorney general’s office for enforcement. White said in a statement Monday that he knew the attorney general’s office would eventually file a lawsuit.
“I applaud the team that brought this lawsuit and am grateful that the state is taking another step toward justice for taxpayers,” White said. “We will continue to work together with our federal partners, who have been given access to all of our evidence for more than two years, to ensure that the case is thoroughly investigated.”
The lawsuit filed Monday says Favre was at one time the largest single outside investor and shareholder in Prevacus, a Florida-based company that was trying to develop a concussion drug. The lawsuit said that in December 2018, Favre urged Prevacus CEO Jake VanLandingham to ask Nancy New to use welfare grant money to invest in the company.
The lawsuit also says that Favre hosted a Prevacus stock sales presentation at his home in January 2019, attended by VanLandingham, Davis, Nancy New, Zach New and Ted DiBiase Jr., and that an agreement was reached to spending “substantial” welfare grant money on Prevacus and later on its corporate affiliate PreSolMD Inc.
The lawsuit said the shares were in the name of Nancy New and Zach New, but also for the financial benefit of Favre, VanLandingham and the two companies. The lawsuit demands reimbursement of $2.1 million in welfare grant money that was improperly paid to the two companies in 2019.
The Associated Press called a number once listed for Favre Enterprises on Monday and a recording said it was no longer in service.
Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Governor Tate Reeves said in a joint statement Monday, “Our purpose in this lawsuit is to seek justice for the broken trust of the people of Mississippi and to recover funds that were wasted.”
Davis was chosen to lead the Department of Human Services in 2016 by the then-governor. Phil Bryant, who, like Reeves, Fitch and White, is a Republican. Davis retired in July 2019 and is awaiting trial on criminal charges for the improper spending.
Brett DiBiase pleaded guilty in December 2020 to one count of making a false statement. He said in court papers that he had filed documents and received full payment for work he did not complete. He agreed to pay $48,000 in restitution and his sentence was deferred.