Brett Favre on welfare scandal: ‘I have done nothing wrong’
Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, who has become a central figure in Mississippi’s ongoing welfare scandal, broke his months-long silence in a statement to Fox News on Tuesday.
Favre has been a subject of Mississippi Today and national reporting this year for being the inspiration behind at least $8 million in welfare misspending. While the former quarterback has not been charged with a crime, he had been ordered to pay back $1.1 million in welfare dollars he received.
Earlier this month, Favre hired Trump White House attorney Eric Herschmann as his lead counsel. And in recent weeks, several sponsors have reportedly distanced themselves from the the Hall of Fame quarterback and native Mississippian.
Among the welfare expenses Favre inspired was a $5 million payment to University of Southern Mississippi, his alma mater, for a volleyball center. The planners of the project called the building a “wellness center,” claiming the building would serve needy families in the Hattiesburg area.
When Mississippi Today asked Favre in 2020 if he had discussed the volleyball center with then-Gov. Phil Bryant, who oversaw the state welfare agency, Favre said, “No.” But text messages uncovered earlier this year and published in Mississippi Today’s “The Backchannel” investigation show Favre had several conversations with Bryant about the project.
In his statement to Fox News this week, Favre said he did not know that project was funded with welfare dollars, and that attorneys vetted the project before it was approved. But he did acknowledge in the statement that the funding came from the government, and he admitted he took money from Mississippi Community Education Center, the nonprofit that facilitated much of the misspending, calling it a “charity.”
“No one ever told me, and I did not know, that funds designated for welfare recipients were going to the University or me,” Favre said. “I tried to help my alma mater USM, a public Mississippi state university, raise funds for a wellness center. My goal was and always will be to improve the athletic facilities at my university.
“State agencies provided the funds to Nancy New’s charity, the Mississippi Community Education Center, which then gave the funds to the University, all with the full knowledge and approval of other State agencies, including the State-wide Institute for Higher Learning, the Governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office.”
Mississippi Today and other outlets have reported for years the fact that the Attorney General’s Office and the Institutes for Higher Learning board approved the Wellness Center agreement.
Separate from the USM volleyball center, Favre also solicited and received welfare funding to launch a pharmaceutical company called Prevacus, which purportedly aimed to develop drugs that would prevent concussions. Favre’s statement to Fox News this week did not allude to this aspect of the welfare scandal.
While Favre has previously said he didn’t know the funding he received was from a program that is supposed to help the poor, text messages published in our “The Backchannel” investigation show he knew he was dealing in government grants. Favre has not been accused of a crime within the scheme and declined to interview with Mississippi Today.
In 2020, Favre told Mississippi Today that the Prevacus project was “about economic development plain and simple!!!” But text messages revealed that Favre had personal motives at heart.
The week Prevacus was supposed to receive its first round of funding from New, Favre texted his partner of top welfare officials: “This all works out we need to buy her and John Davis surprise him with a vehicle I thought maybe John Davis we could get him a raptor.”
Minutes later, Favre followed up: “Honestly give me your thoughts on what you think all this means … When we will make money.”
Favre also once texted: “Call me crazy but my goal is to take home 20 million.”
Text messages also show Favre also briefed Bryant on when the company began receiving funding from the state and that Bryant agreed to accept stock in Prevacus after he left office – until State Auditor Shad White’s early 2020 arrests derailed the arrangement.
Bryant explained to Mississippi Today that he didn’t read his texts carefully enough to appreciate what the men were saying or asking of him.
Editor’s note: Mississippi Today Editor-in-Chief Adam Ganucheau’s mother signed off on the language of a lease agreement to construct a University of Southern Mississippi volleyball stadium. Read more about that here.