Sunday, May 21, 2023

Sunday Long Read: Personal Foul By The QB

Our Sunday Long Read this week is Michael Rosenberg's piece in Sports Illustrated detailing how former all-everything NFL QB Brett Favre almost certainly knew what he was doing by leveraging his fame in his home state of Mississippi, in order to get a state college sports facility built for his daughter's team with what was supposed to be welfare assistance for some of the poorest people in America.
Three years ago, the State of Mississippi arrested a 67-year-old grandmother with no known criminal record at her office.

Nancy New was a lifelong educator. She had run her nonprofit, Mississippi Community Education Center, for more than 25 years. When state auditor Shad White’s agents interrogated New on multiple occasions, she didn’t even bring an attorney, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meetings. At the end of one of those interviews, one of New’s alleged accomplices, 63-year-old accountant Anne McGrew, expressed surprise that the auditor’s agents had guns, the person says. The agents explained that while they worked for the auditor’s office, they were not auditors. They were state police.

At that time, they were focused on the state’s welfare-agency director, John Davis, and two former professional wrestling brothers he allegedly enriched. But the misspending of welfare funds went far beyond that. Investigators kept peeling back layers of the scheme until they arrested New and a handful of others, at which point White declared, “The scheme is massive. It ends today.”

Only a few weeks later—after investigators stumbled upon more information, more was leaked publicly and the story exploded—did a more full picture come into focus:

New was mostly following orders from Davis, the welfare chief.

Davis largely operated on behalf of Mississippi’s then governor, Republican Phil Bryant.

And Bryant worked relentlessly to please the state’s most famous athlete, NFL legend Brett Favre.

Favre has portrayed himself as an unknowing and tangential participant in the welfare-embezzlement scheme. But it appears nobody benefited more. Interviews and an analysis of legal filings and records, which include dozens of text conversations—some of which have not previously been public—paint Favre as a ringleader from start to finish.

Favre had promised his alma mater, Southern Miss, that he would build a volleyball facility for his daughter Breleigh’s team there. But he was obsessed with not paying for it himself. So he got Mississippi’s welfare agency to build indoor and beach volleyball facilities for him—using money intended for the poorest people in the nation’s poorest state—and then he kept pushing to get more for a business venture, with the governor often helping him, according to texts from those involved.

“Brett Favre’s repeated demands for this grant money were certainly the driving force” for millions of dollars in illegal transactions, says former U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott, who had been hired by current Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves to independently investigate the scandal—until Pigott started looking at the volleyball deal and Reeves fired him.

Favre was a leading character in a drama full of political alliances and personal favors; of celebrities and their sycophants; of unchecked power and unconscionable use of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. Illegal behavior was so institutionalized that some perpetrators showed no fear of getting caught. One of Favre’s business partners referred to Bryant as part of his “team,” to which the governor replied, in part: “We will get this done," according to texts Sports Illustrated obtained over the course of several months of reporting. The governor texted Favre about “our cause.”

When it unraveled—starting with an accidental, seemingly innocuous discovery—the most powerful players started outmaneuvering the others. Eventually, people who plotted with one another plotted against one another—a theme that continues to play out in both ongoing civil and criminal cases.

Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe won a Pulitzer Prize for her exemplary reporting on all aspects of the scandal. SI set out to explain and examine Favre’s role.
At times, the former quarterback comes off as comically clueless. Often, he seems highly manipulative. Throughout, he was relentless in his pursuit of government money. After Davis was forced out of his job at the Department of Human Services and the scheme started to splinter, Favre kept pushing. At one point he told New, “I’ll keep asking weekly.” Shortly before the arrests, as he fretted about securing cash, he wrote in a text, “I [can’t] focus on anything else with this looming.”

Three years later, something else looms over Favre: the distinct possibility he will be indicted.

This is the story of what Favre did—and how he did it.


This is a critical piece, along with Anna Wolfe's stellar reporting breaking the scandal, I covered it back in September.

The larger issue is that a guy that got paid tens of millions to throw a ball around was too cheap to pay for his legagy buildings at his alma mater and then conspired to embezzle the price tag by taking it from state welfare cash. It may be the most literal case of welfare fraud in US history.

Number Four here needs to go to prison, along with all the folks in former Gov. Phil Bryant's government who assisted this fraud.
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