NFL hall-of-famer Brett Favre questioned by FBI in $70m Mississippi welfare scandal

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Ex-NFL star Brett Favre was questioned by the agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations for his alleged involvement in a Mississippi welfare fraud case that saw the millionaire receive $1.1m for motivational speeches that he never gave, according to NBC News.

Bud Holmes, the attorney representing the former Green Bay Packers quarterback, confirmed to NBC that his client answered questions from federal agents and maintained that his client had done nothing wrong, repeating the professional football player’s previous claims that he had no idea the money he received was coming from a fund designed for needy families.

“As I have said before, I would never accept money for no-show appearances, as the state of Mississippi auditor,” tweeted the 52-year-old last autumn, noting in a follow-up tweet that he was doing all that he could “to support the investigation”.

“Of course the money was returned because I would never knowingly take funds meant to help our neighbors in need,” he added.

In the years spanning from 2017 to 2018, former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has been accused of paying out $1.1m to Favre to make motivational speeches in the state, attend promotional events and appear on the radio.

Favre’s alleged misappropriation of funds forms part of a larger scandal in the state which saw a sum of $70m from the federal government – funnelled through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is intended to aid the state’s neediest households – was paid to Favre, as well as to a WWE professional wrestler, a volleyball complex and other professional athletes.

For his part, Favre, a Mississippi native and resident, has repaid the $1.1m, despite contesting that he’s done nothing wrong. He has not, however, paid back the interest owed on that more than $1m pay out, which the state auditor says amounts to $228,000.

The football Hall of Famer has not been charged with any crimes and maintains that he was not aware the funds he received were intended to go to some of the state’s poorest families.

In a court document for the case released in July, a defendant said that she had directed welfare funds to the Super Bowl-winning star’s accounts at the direction of the former governor, Phil Bryant.

Mississippi news outlets report that the accusation, which Bryant denies, is in a filing on behalf of defendant Nancy New, who, with her son, once ran a non-profit group and an education company in Mississippi.

Ms New, 69, and her son, Zachary New, 39, pleaded guilty to criminal charges in April and in exchange for their plea offered to provide testimony about others allegedly involved in the scandal, Mississippi Today reported.

Her court filing is in a civil case filed by the Mississippi Department of Human Services against Mississippi Community Education Center Inc., once run by the New family. In the 29-page document, her attorneys say she was acting at the direction of MDHS officials in the awarding of various contracts and allocation of funds.

For his part, the former governor has flatly denied these allegations.

“These allegations made against Gov. Bryant are false. Every claim against these individuals was discovered and prosecuted as a result of an investigation Gov. Bryant requested of the state auditor,” a statement from a spokesperson for Mr Bryant read, WAPT-TV reported.

Among the other affluent figures named in the ballooning fleecing scandal were former WWE wrestler Ted DiBiase Jr, who was ordered to pay back $3.9m from the welfare funds and Marcus Dupree, a former running back for Oklahoma in the 1980s, and fitness trainer Paul LaCoste. The latter two had allegedly combined been paid $670,000.

The NBC report also highlights how this fraud case, which has been characterised by Mississippi’s current state auditor as the largest public corruption case in the past two decades, took place in a state that rejects more than 90 per cent of the people who apply for the federal welfare benefit, otherwise known as TANF.

In state figures quoted in the investigation, the news outlet notes that just this year, only 2,500 children received benefits in a state that counts 192,000 children who would be classified as living in poverty.

The Independent reached out to Favre’s attorney for comment on the case and his reported questioning by FBI agents but did not hear back immediately.