Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe reports that text messages were entered as evidence in a civil rights lawsuit over the welfare scandal that purport to show then-Gov. Bryant was well aware of plans to siphon millions of taxpayer dollars away from the state’s welfare agency. Specifically, Gov. Bryant knew full well about the $5 million needed to help Favre get a University of Southern Mississippi (USM) volleyball stadium built. Favre’s daughter was a player on the USM volleyball team The most damning communications are from Nancy New, a friend of Gov. Bryant’s wife, who has already pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts related to the fraud scheme reported on back in 2020. Her plea deal comes with the promise to help prosecutors in their ongoing cases.
Because of the strict prohibition on using TANF funds to pay for construction, the parties had to craft an agreement that would look to satisfy federal law and give the illusion they were helping needy families. With the help of legal advice from MDHS attorneys, they came up with the idea for New’s nonprofit to enter a $5 million up-front lease of the university’s athletic facilities, which the nonprofit would purportedly use for programming. And in exchange, the foundation would include offices for the nonprofit inside the volleyball facility, which they called a “Wellness Center.”
According to the new filings, the $1.1 million that Favre has slowly given back after pleading ignorance was all in service of his push to get funding for the volleyball stadium—the money that was funneled away from social services. This is the same Mississippi that doesn’t have drinking water because of decades of racist negligence by state officials. In one of the text exchanges between Favre and New, Favre asks if “there is anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?” he is getting paid. New assures him that that information is never publicly revealed.
The following day New texted Favre with lots of exclamation points that “Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!” New has reportedly told prosecutors that Gov. Bryant told her to pay Favre. Bryant is fighting off subpoenas requiring him to turn over texts and his correspondence from that time period. Bryant is arguing he has “executive privilege” and shouldn’t have to turn over his text records.
It’s crucial to note that it is against federal regulations for Mississippi’s welfare program, called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), to spend money on construction. Spending millions on somebody’s volleyball stadium is a clear violation of federal law. The filings also detail New’s version of conversations she had with Bryant after the governor was forced to oust John Davis as head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, because of the ongoing investigation into his corruption.
Most damning are a series of texts where Favre tells New about conversations he’s having with Gov. Bryant. Mississippi Today reports that in April of this year, Bryant made a big deal of claiming that he told everybody at a meeting with New that they couldn’t spend money on volleyball. But New had some receipts. Just days after this meeting where Gov. Bryant says he made a big to-do, Nancy New’s agency received a new and larger sub-grant from TANF.
This happened even though New’s nonprofit was under investigation. New then provides a text she received the same month her organization was able to get that extra money. Guess who texted her? Yes, Gov. Bryant. Guess what he was asking? “Did y’all [sic] get any Of the new programs from DHS.?”
“Yes, we did,” New responded to the former governor. “From all the craziness going on, we had been made to believe we were not getting refunded. But we did. ‘Someone’ was definitely pulling for us behind the scenes. Thank you.”
Gov. Bryant replied with a heart-eyes smiling emoji face because he’s…gross? The state of Mississippi is not looking into the fraudulent stadium deal, as the current governor fired the attorney who was bringing that complaint after “he tried to subpoena documents related to the volleyball stadium.” That would be Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, successor to Bryant, doing the dirty work (and cleanup) most frequently seen in films about corrupt dictatorships.