Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, suspected of pressuring Mississippi state officials to spend millions in federal welfare funds on a volleyball center at the school where his daughter played the sport, warned the former governor “we are not taking No for an answer,” newly released text messages in a court filing show.
“We obviously need your help big time and time is working against us. And we feel that your name is the perfect choice for this facility,” Favre texted then-Gov. Phil Bryant on Sept. 4, 2019 about funding the volleyball center at the University of Southern Mississippi’s main campus in Hattiesburg.
“We are not taking No for an answer! You are a Southern Miss Alumni, and folks need to know you are also a supporter of the University,” he added.
“We are going to get there,” Bryant, a Republican, texted back. “This was a great meeting. But we have to follow the law. I am to(o) old for Federal Prison (smiley face, sunglasses emoji).”
This exchange is part of a series of text messages between Favre and Bryant that were filed Friday in Hinds County District Court by the ex-governor’s lawyer.
Bryant, who left office in 2020, says he had no idea that a plan was hatched to divert funds meant for needy families to a volleyball facility during a July 2017 meeting that included the legendary former Green Bay Packers quarterback, John Davis, then head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, and Nancy New, founder of the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center, according to the court filing.
A previous court filing by New, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators, alleged the opposite, saying: “The evidence suggests that (Mississippi Department of Human Services) Executives, including Governor Bryant, knew that Favre was seeking funds from MDHS to build the Volleyball Facility … and participated in directing, approving, or providing Favre MDHS funds to be used for construction of the Volleyball Facility.”
More on the Mississippi welfare scandal
The exchanges between Favre and Bryant were released just days after Davis pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges and admitted doling out millions of taxpayer funds to two nonprofits which then awarded “contract to various entities and individuals for social services that were never provided.”
New and her son, Zach, pleaded guilty earlier to state charges of misspending public money that was supposed to be used to help residents of the nation’s poorest state climb out of poverty.
Both Davis and New are cooperating in the federal investigation of Mississippi’s welfare spending scandal.
Neither Bryant nor Favre have been hit with criminal charges, but the NFL great is a defendant in a civil suit brought by the state of Mississippi against more than 35 people and entities in a bid to recover the misspent funds.
Bryant’s lawyer released several text exchanges to show that the ex-governor pushed back at Favre’s efforts to secure the money.
“Use of these funds (is) tightly controlled,” Bryant texted Favre on July 28, 2019, according to the filing.
“As soon as we get approval we can move forward,” Bryant added in a subsequent text. “Without that approval any expenditure could be illegal and Nancy and USM could be made to repay the Federal Government any and all funds spent.”
In the filing, Bryant’s lawyers said New alerted Favre on Aug. 4, 2017, that she had “just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!”
But, Bryant’s lawyers insisted, “New did not tell Governor Bryant that she and Davis had arranged to contribute $4 million in TANF funds to the project. She simply explained that she was helping Favre gain university approval of the project and it appeared the university would ultimately approve it.”
NBC News has previously reported that Bryant was involved in discussions with Davis and Favre about securing millions of dollars for the volleyball facility. Favre also secured $3.2 million for a drug company in which he had invested, according to court records.
New distributed the money in consultation with Davis and Bryant, the records showed.
Favre has also denied wrongdoing through his lawyer, who acknowledged that the ex-Packer has been interviewed by the FBI. There is no indication Favre is a target of the investigation, and he says he did not know the state grants came from federal welfare funds.
Bryant “very emphatically says he still doesn’t know of anything that Bret did wrong,” Favre’s lawyer Bud Holmes said Monday, referencing the court filing. He added that Favre behaved honorably and never knew the state grants he was seeking were from the federal welfare program.
Also, Favre has paid back $1.1 million that was given to him directly, but the state auditor says he still owes $228,000 in interest.
Messages released earlier this month, however, revealed that Favre sought reassurances from New that the public would never learn he was seeking millions of dollars in grants that ultimately came from the Mississippi welfare agency.
“If you were to pay me is there anyway (sic) the media can find out where it came from and how much?” Favre wrote in an Aug. 2, 2017 text message to New that was included in the Friday filing.
“No, we never have had that information publicized,” New replied by text. “I understand you being uneasy about that though. Let’s see what happens on Monday with the conversation with some of the folks at Southern. Maybe it will click with them. Hopefully.”
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