A recent court filing states that NFL legend and Hall of Famer Brett Favre, consistently sought funding for a new volleyball stadium at Southern Miss even after he was told it could be illegal.
A text sent to Favre on July 28, 2019, by former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, said that the founder of a nonprofit who paid him retained some control over the dispersal of money from the welfare fund. However, that piece of information came with a warning.
“Use of these funds [is] tightly controlled,” Bryant wrote to Favre. “Any improper use could result in violation of Federal Law. Auditors are currently reviewing the use of these funds.”
Though, despite Bryant’s admonition, Favre continued to press for the funds.
As the court filing states, on September 4, 2019, Favre texted Bryant after a meeting to re-state the need to quickly secure funds and further stressed that he needed Bryant’s help to do so.
“We obviously need your help big time and time is working against us,” Favre wrote. “And we feel that your name is the perfect choice for this facility and 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.”
Bryant signaled his willingness to help, but also said he would not be a part of anything illegal.
“We are going to get there,” Bryant wrote Favre, according to the filing. “This was a great meeting. But we have to follow the law. I am to[o] old for Federal Prison.”
Bryant wasn’t the only one to have concerns over the legalities of how Favre was proceeding in his attempt to acquire facility funding. According to the filing, Favre approached Bryant after he had left office to seek his help in obtaining a legislative appropriation to cover his personal debt. Bryant told Favre he would connect with then-Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett on the matter.
But, Bennett expressed concerns over how Favre was proceeding.
“As you know, IHL [Mississippi’s higher education system] has a process of how we request and get approval for projects and what he’s doing is outside those guidelines,” Bennett wrote. “I will see, for the ‘umpteenth time’ if we can get him to stand down. The bottom line is he personally guaranteed the project, and on his word and handshake we proceeded. It’s time for him to pay up — it really is just that simple.”
Bryant replied, “Maybe he wants the state to pay off his promises. Like all of us I like Brett. He is a legend but he has to understand what a pledge means. I have tried many time[s] to explain that to him.”
As ESPN reports:
Favre is among the defendants in the state’s civil lawsuit over misspent welfare funds. As first revealed in an investigation by Mississippi Today, state auditors determined that at least $77 million in welfare funds were misspent or stolen in the largest case of public fraud in state history.
Six people were arrested in February 2020. Most have pleaded guilty, including nonprofit founder Nancy New, who secured the funding for Favre’s project, and John Davis, the former Mississippi Department of Human Services director. State Auditor Shad White has said civil and criminal investigations continue.
Bryant, who has not been charged with a crime, said in his filing that he did not know about efforts to divert state welfare money. He said he had offered to help Favre raise private donations and corporate sponsorships. The subpoena for his records, the filing said, ‘was brought in bad faith … because he refused to turn a blind eye to the crimes perpetrated by New and Davis.’
Favre has not been charged in Mississippi’s welfare scandal.