Editor’s note: This is the third and final article in NEMISS.NEWS’s series on the MDHS scandal. We continue with information about some of the players in the drama and how the people of Mississippi may be made whole.
Who is Brett Favre?
Brett Lorenzo Favre was born in Gulfport, October 10, 1969. His parents were schoolteachers. His father, Irvin Ernest Favre, was also the head football coach at Hancock North Central High School in Kiln, Mississippi. Brett Favre grew up in Kiln, an unincorporated area in Hancock County. The population then was about 1,000.
That part of Hancock County had been the center of a thriving lumber industry before they loggers ran out of trees to harvest. Most of the sawmills had closed decades before Favre was born.
Historians say that, during its heyday Hancock County had 50 or more productive whiskey stills. A few hard-working craftsmen may have still been practicing that oldest of the manufacturing trades when Favre grew up there.
Brett Favre played several positions for the North Central Hancock Hawks. His father knew Favre had an uncommonly good throwing arm, but the Hawks mainly ran a running offense. However, young Brett did occasionally get to throw a pass, and that drew attention. Mark McHale, an assistant football coach for the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), saw Favre throw one pass that “had smoke of flames coming off it.”
McHale recruited Favre to play for the USM Golden Eagles. Legend has it that he was offered a football scholarship by no other NCAA Division 1 school.
Favre began his freshman year as the seventh-string USM quarterback. He secured the starting quarterback slot in the third game of his freshman year. Despite admittedly suffering from a hangover and vomiting during warm-ups, Favre threw two touchdown passes and led USM to a come-from-behind victory over Tulane.
The summer before his senior year at Southern, Favre wrecked his car and was critically injured in an accident near his family’s home. Surgeons removed 2-1/2 feet of his small intestine.
However, six-weeks later he led the Golden Eagles to a stunning victory over the University of Alabama. Alabama Coach Gene Stallings said, “You can call it a miracle or a legend or whatever you want to. I just know that on that day, Brett Favre was larger than life.”
Brett Favre was and remains today the all-time USM football hero.
He played football in the NFL for 20 seasons and four different teams, retiring once and coming back again as a successful starting quarterback.
Favre had a fabled NFL career marred by a couple of problems, including drug addiction, for which he went through rehab in 1995. He had become addicted to Vicodin while being treated for injuries. The NFL investigated. Favre confessed to the addiction, went through 46 days of rehabilitation and thus avoided a $900-thousand NFL fine.
However, he returned to lead Green Bay to their best season in 30 years in 1996.
There was also a problem at one point during his NFL career associated with Favre’s consumption of alcohol.
All that said, Brett Favre had one of the all time great careers as a professional football quarterback. He is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. He held a league record of 297 consecutive starts, 321 including the playoffs.
He retired in Hattiesburg near his alma mater.
Favre has complained of memory loss blamed on too many concussions while an active player.
Favre’s name became associated with the MDHS scandal when State Auditor Shad White charged that:
- Nancy New’s Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) had paid Favre $1.1-million in TANF money for personal appearances he never made. Favre returned half-a-million dollars to the state and has promised to repay the other $600-thousand. (Audit page 18)
- Favre’s name has also been mentioned in connection with a $1.7 million personal investment New and her son Zack made with Prevacus amd its affilliate PreSolMD, allegedly with TANF funds. Prevacus is a pharmaceutical company developing a new treatment for concussions. Original MCEC records showed the investment made with TANF funds, but were changed to another source after the auditor questioned use of TANF money. (audit page 53)
- Favre’s name has also been mentioned in connection with the questioned $5-million in TANF funds New invested in a volleyball facility at USM. Favre’s daughter, Breleigh, is a star player on the USM volleyball squad. (Audit page 31)
Brett Favre has not been accused of a crime.
He has denied knowing that the 1.1-million he received came from TANF funds.
It has not clear why Favre thought he got the $1.1-million or what he thought he had done or was supposed to do to earn the money.
Who is Shad White
The elected official at the center of the Mississippi Department of Human Resources scandal is State Auditor Shad White.
Shadrack Tucker White was born September 22, 1985, in Sandersville, Jones County, Mississippi. His father Charles Robert White was an oilfield pumper and his mother Emily Morgan White taught art in public schools.
Shad White attended the public schools of Jones County and enrolled at the University of Mississippi after graduating from Northeast Jones High School in 2004. He enrolled at Ole Miss and completed an undergraduate degree there in political science and economics.
A top student and athlete throughout his early life, he was selected a Rhodes Scholar in 2008. He earned a master’s degree at St. John’s College, Oxford, and rowed crew.
Upon returning from England he enrolled in Harvard University’s law school, earning a juris doctor degree. He was president of the Harvard Federalist Society while a senior in law school.
Coming back to Mississippi, White was hired by then Lieutenant-Governor Phil Bryant as Director of Policy. He continued his association with Bryant while working as a litigator for the Butler, Snow law firm in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
White was campaign manager for Bryant when he ran for re-election as Mississippi Governor in 2015.
Bryant appointed White State Auditor of Mississippi on July 6, 2018, when elected Auditor Stacey Pickering resigned to accept another job.
White was elected to a four year term as State Auditor in November, 2019.
Shadrack White’s office conducted the audit of the MDHS that occurred when John Davis resigned as head of that agency last July. His office led the investigation that culminated in the arrest of Davis, Nancy New, and four others on Feb. 5, 2020, in what White has characterized as the “largest public embezzlement case in state history.”
White’s office conducted the audit and investigating outlined in the 104-page audit report published on NEMISS.NEWS on May 29. Audit summary and complete report (PDF)
White has said he has turned all evidence in the case over to Mike Hurst, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
White has claimed that former Governor Bryant was the whistleblower that spurred his investigation of MDHS.
Who is Mike Hurst?
David Michael Hurst, Jr., age 44, grew up in Hickory, Newton County, Mississippi. He is a Republican.
He attended East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi, and graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson. He graduated from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.
Hurst served as legislative director for former Mississippi Third District Congressman Chip Pickering. He worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi and as general counsel for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
He ran as the Republican candidate against incumbent Democrat Mississippi Attorney-General Jim Hood in 2015. He received 44.7 percent of the vote in the general election, and Hood won 55.3 percent.
President Trump appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. As with all such appointments, it was supported by the state Republican Party leadership. He was confirmed by the Senate and assumed the office on Oct. 10, 2017.
Hurst was criticized last year for prosecuting illegal immigrants, but not pursuing charges against the companies that illegally hired the immigrants.
Hurst has indicated he will bring federal charges against persons involved in the embezzlement of TANF funds by employees and contractors of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
Who are the DiBiases?
Brett DiBiase was one of the six individuals arrested by State Auditor Shad White and charged with embezzling money from TANF funds. By many accounts, DiBiase and former MDHS Director John Davis were personally close. White said John Davis hired DiBiase at a high salary at MDHS. There were doubts about whether DiBiase was qualified by education or experience for the work at MDHS. (Audit page 61)
- Brett DIBiase: The auditor said John Davis had Nancy New paid from TANF funds for Opoid training sessions never completed and expensive drug rehabilitation treatment for Dibiase at an exclusive California rehab facility. (audit page 28-29)
- A variety of vague contracts and payments inadequately documented as to requirements of services, fulfillment of services, etd.
- Ted DiBiase, Jr., Priceless Ventures owner had multiple vague contracts with MCEC, FRC and MDHS, as directed by John Davis. (audit page 23)
- Ted DiBiase, Heart of David Ministries (audit page 24)
DiBiase is of a family of professional wrestlers, promoters and a variety of Christian evangelists. For more about the DiBiase clan, see this article posted by NEMISS.NEWS on February 15, 2020.
What is Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRCNM)?
The Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRCNM) is based in Tupelo. It is one of the two organizations that State Auditor Shad White says received millions of dollars in welfare funds and failed to properly account for the money.
The other organization cited by White, the one that has received most media attention so far in the embezzlement story, is Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC).
Besides former Director John Davis, the people arrested in February were all connected with MCEC.
About half the money White says was illegally distributed – nearly $46-million – was distributed to and by the Tupelo organization. As far as we know, nobody associated with Family Resource Center of Tupelo has thus far been arrested and charged.
However, Auditor White’s 104-page report of April 22, 2020, says that FRCNM of Tupelo illegally received $45,684,835 in TANF, SNAP, CCDF, SSBG and “other unaudited federal grants in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
What’s more, the audit report questions more than a million dollars the Tupelo organization paid to John Davis’s brother-in-law and John Davis’s nephew the same years. The exact amount the auditor claims FRCNM of Tupelo paid to these two individuals is $1,101,149. (Audit page 12)
FRCNM supports services in North Mississippi, including children’s advocacy, parenting organizations and support groups, and various workshops.
The Executive Director of Family Resource Center of North Mississippi is Christi Webb.
FRCNM, like all tax exempt 501(c)3 organizations is required to file IRS Form 990 every year, accounting for its income, its expenditures, salaries of its officers, etc.
The last Form 990 NEMISS.NEWS could find for FRCNM is for the year 2018. The Tupelo organization told the Internal Revenue Service it paid Christi Webb total compensation of $161,106 for that year.
The 2018 IRS Form 990 shows that FRCNM paid $139,045 to a Debbie Underwood as “financial officer” for the organization.
In preparing this series NEMISS.NEWS made over 20 unsuccessful attempts to contact Christi Webb at the organization’s listed telephone numbers.
The organization’s website lists the names and contact information of 11 members of the FRCNM board of directors, all of them from northeast Mississippi.
We did not attempt to contact each of the 11 board members.We did try to contact three of them.
One of them, a man known to us for several years, said he was no longer a member of the board. He said he served less than a full term on the FRCNM board and had resigned because his business interests out of state made it impossible for him to serve. That former board member said that when he first went on the board it met monthly and then started meeting only quarterly.
The former board member did volunteer the opinion: “I don’t think Christi Webb would do anything wrong.”
We made two attempts to contact a currently serving board member who is the former president of FRCNM. We left messages for the former president, but did not receive a return call from him.
We were able to contact Joyce Johnston of Tupelo, who is listed on the organization’s website as a “Lifetime Member.” Mrs. Johnston, a former school teacher, said she had been a member of the board for “about 40 years.”
She said, “About 40 years ago they had failed to fill out a form. I went to work there and helped them straighten that out. I think this will be something about like that.”
Johnston said Christi Webb had been executive director of FRCNM for about seven years. She asked if we had talked with Christi Webb, and we described to her the many unsuccessful attempts to contact Webb. She indicated she would pass on to Webb our desire to speak with her. That was 10 days ago. Thus far, we have not been contacted by Webb.
“I have never known her [Christi Webb] to do anything wrong,” said Joyce Johnston.
NEMISS.NEWS asked Joyce Johnston what she could tell us about Nancy New, who claimed in a 2018 interview a connection with the Tupelo organization. “I didn’t know her [New],” was her response.
Our conversations with the former and current board members gave the impression that the roll of the FRCNM board was more to “support” Webb’s work as executive director than to supervise or critique it.
Again, we are aware of nobody connected with FRCNM who has been accused of a crime.
Conclusions and Unanswered Questions
The Mississippi Department of Human Services mess is a convoluted and far reaching one involving many millions of dollars, dozens of organizations and an, as yet, unknown number of individuals.
Six individuals thus far are charged with criminal acts.
Auditor White’s report suggests than a great many people have failed to follow accepted accounting practices, failed to document their work and have violated a great many federal regulations. Thus, there is no way yet to know how many people and organizations may face civil penalties and lawsuits.
What about the elected officials and state employees who have neglected to assure good performance and lawful practices? Some of these may not face criminal prosecution, but how will they be held accountable for allowing this to happen?
Three Republican officials, two elected and one appointed, have the duty to sort out this huge, gnarly problem that occurred under the nose of a popular Republican former governor.
Elected Republican Auditor White has a duty to try to recover the money owed to the people of Mississippi. How does he do that without anything reflecting badly on the former governor who gave him his start in state politics, the governor who originally appointed him to the job he must now do?
Elected Republican Attorney-General Lynn Fitch is the first woman to ever hold that job and the first Republican elected AG in 120 years. Auditor White is likely to ask Fitch to do her duty of issuing legal demands to many individuals and organizations for the return of money received and spent without proper authority. How will she go about that?
Brett Favre has already returned a good portion of the money he should never have received. How many more will Fitch have to press to pay back what they shouldn’t have? We will not venture a guess.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst is a Republican. He was appointed by a Republican President with the support of Mississippi Republican elected officials. To Hurst will fall the duty of prosecuting criminal violations of federal laws.
White, Fitch and Hurst – three smart ambitious Republican politicians are called on to do some heavy lifting, to deliver justice and equity to the people of Mississippi, who have made this essentially a one party state.
We must believe White, Fitch and Hurst will do their duty.
If we can’t believe that, we can’t believe there is any hope for integrity in Mississippi government.
Part II of MDHS Embezzlement: Davis, New and Bryant
Auditor’s Full Report: MDHS-2019-1