JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Department of Human Services on Monday sued retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and three former pro wrestlers along with several other people and businesses to try to recover millions of misspent welfare dollars that were intended to help some of the poorest people in the U.S.
The lawsuit says the defendants "squandered" more than $20 million in money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families anti-poverty program.
The suit was filed less than two weeks after a mother and son who ran a nonprofit group and an education company in Mississippi pleaded guilty to state criminal charges tied to the misspending. Nancy New, 69, and Zachary New, 39, agreed to testify against others in what state Auditor Shad White has called Mississippi's largest public corruption case in the past two decades.
In early 2020, Nancy New, Zachary New, former Mississippi Department of Human Services executive director John Davis and three other people were charged in state court, with prosecutors saying welfare money had been misspent on items such as drug rehabilitation in Malibu, California, for former pro 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 pro wrestlers, Ted DiBiase Sr. and Ted "Teddy" DiBiase Jr.
Ted DiBiase Sr. was known as the "The Million Dollar Man" while wrestling. He is a Christian evangelist and motivational speaker, and he ran Heart of David Ministries Inc., which received $1.7 million in welfare grant money in 2017 and 2018 for mentorship, marketing and other services, according to the lawsuit.
White last year demanded repayment of $77 million of misspent welfare funds from several people and groups, including $1.1 million paid to Favre, who lives in Mississippi. Favre has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
White said Favre was paid for speeches but did not show up. Favre has repaid the money, but White said in October that Favre still owed $228,000 in interest. In a Facebook post when he repaid the first $500,000, Favre said he did not know the money he received came from welfare funds. He also said his charity had provided millions of dollars to poor children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.
Months ago, the auditor's office turned over the demands for repayment of misspent 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 eventually would file suit.
"I applaud the team filing this suit and am grateful the state is taking another step toward justice for the taxpayers," White said. "We will continue to work alongside our federal partners — who have been given access to all our evidence for more than two years — to make sure the case is fully investigated."
The lawsuit filed Monday said Favre at one time was the largest individual outside investor and stockholder of Prevacus, a Florida-based company that was trying to develop a concussion drug. The suit 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 suit also said 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 spend "substantial'' welfare grant money in Prevacus and later in its corporate affiliate PreSolMD Inc.
The suit said the stock was in the names of Nancy New and Zach New but was also for the financial benefit of Favre, VanLandingham and the two companies. The lawsuit demands repayment of $2.1 million in welfare grant money that was improperly paid to the two companies in 2019.
The Associated Press on Monday called a number once listed for Favre Enterprises and a recording said it was no longer in service.
Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Gov. Tate Reeves said in a joint statement Monday: "Our purpose with this suit is to seek justice for the broken trust of the people of Mississippi and recover funds that were misspent.''
Davis was chosen to lead the Department of Human Services in 2016 by then-Gov. Phil Bryant — who, like Reeves, Fitch and White, is a Republican. Davis retired in July 2019 and is awaiting trial on criminal charges in the misspending.
Brett DiBiase pleaded guilty in December 2020 to one count of making a false statement. He said in court documents that he had submitted documents and received full payment for work he did not complete. He agreed to pay $48,000 in restitution and his sentencing was deferred.