• Favre told he must face charges in civil lawsuit
U. S. Attorneys brought former pro-wrestler Ted DiBiase Jr. handcuffed and shackled into federal court April 20 on a medley of criminal charges that could put him behind prison bars for 175 years, a spokesperson for the Federal Court of the Southern District of Mississippi reports.
Four days later, on April 24, Hinds County Circuit Judge Faye Peterson refused to allow retired pro-football quarterback Brett Favre to be removed from a list of people charged with civil offenses related to the same case, which is the largest case of welfare fraud in the state’s history.
Favre must stand trial on federal civil charges, according to the Hinds County District Attorney’s office.
DiBiase, however, is charged with misappropriating millions of dollars in federal safety-net funds intended for needy families and low-income individuals in Mississippi, a set of criminal charges.
DiBiase and Favre allegedly received federal welfare funds in a scheme run by John Davis, the former director of the Department of Human Services (MDHS), and confessed embezzler Nancy New.
New has given sworn testimony that former Gov. Phil Bryant and current Gov. Tate Reeves directed her to funnel TANF money to Favre and other individuals favored by them. Former popular sports figures like Reeves’ personal trainer Paul LaCoste, Ted DiBiase Sr., his two sons Brett and Ted Jr., and other insiders allegedly were allowed to misuse as much as $98 million of federal money via “sham contracts” with DHS. The contracts were issued mainly through the Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) and the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRC), two nonprofits set up by Nancy New.
In the April 20 indictment, the U. S. Attorney kept the focus on Ted DiBiase Jr. since New, Davis, and four accomplices had already copped their pleas with the federal prosecutors.
“Under these sham contracts, FRC and MCEC provided millions of dollars in federal funds from MDHS to DiBiase and his companies for social services that DiBiase did not provide and did not intend to provide,” the indictment charges. “DiBiase allegedly used these federal funds to buy a vehicle and a boat, and for the down payment on the purchase of a house, among other expenditures.
“DiBiase is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to commit theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, six counts of wire fraud, two counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, and four counts of money laundering. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the conspiracy count, a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count, and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for each count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and for each count of money laundering.”
Former U. S. Attorney Brad Pigott, now in private practice, was hired as the investigator into the welfare fraud case in 2021 by Tate Reeves. Pigott reports that DHS Director Davis had a great liking for the DiBiase trio, all former professional wrestlers.
Davis hired Brett DiBiase in 2017 at a salary of $95,000 a year, Forbes Magazine reported, although the young DiBiase had no known skills useful to DHS. Shortly after Brett came aboard, however, DHS grants totaling more than $2.1 million were given to his father’s Heart of David Ministries.
Once Pigott began unveiling Brett Favre’s ties to the illegal TANF money, including a $5 million pledge to build a volleyball court at the University of Southern Mississippi, his alma mater, a $1.7 million investment in a medical company, plus $1.1 million he had received for speaking appearances he had never shown up for, Gov. Tate Reeves fired him in July 2022. Favre was accused of using his influence with Bryant to get the TANF money to pay off his $5 million-pledge to USM.
The Department of Human Services last year filed civil complaints against Favre and 38 other individuals or businesses.
State Auditor Shad White uncovered in 2019 what turned out to be “the most egregious and massive fraud of public funds” in Mississippi’s history. He commended the federal prosecutors for their April 20 indictment of DiBiase.
“Prosecutors decide whom to charge with a crime,” White said. “And we’re grateful to see them continuing to advance this case. We will continue to support their efforts with the evidence that our investigators and federal investigators have uncovered.”
Vicksburg attorney Ty Pinkins, a community organizer and social justice worker in the Delta near Rolling Fork where he grew up, complains of the unrelenting assaults on the rights of the poor and needy people there.
Pinkins says Mississippi is full of predatory types like DiBiase Jr. – well-off people who think nothing of depriving a needy family of basic human sustenance.
“DiBiase’s arrest and indictment is just a first step in what needs to happen to those privileged people who engage in welfare fraud against needy Mississippians. They must be held accountable. There are many others like DiBiase out there who have been involved in such schemes and it is deeply troubling.”
The recent tornado added to the difficulty of surviving from day to day in the Delta, he said. But U.S. Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde Smith showed no concern about the lives of poor people in the Delta before the tornadoes hit.
“The welfare fraud exacerbates the situation that these community members are going through,” said Pinkins. “The poverty rate in some counties in the Delta is as high as 39 percent. Compared to the national poverty rate of 12 percent, it shows a 27 percent gap. In the face of such a reality, how can you have professional athletes and high-level officials, stealing and misusing federal aid to these communities?”
Pinkins testified before Congress earlier this year about the unfair labor practices that deny employment to local Black farmworkers while the farm owners import white farmworkers from South Africa and pay them wages much higher than the prevailing standard.
Pinkins has qualified to run for the U. S. Senate in 2024. He is disappointed, he says, at the lack of concern Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde Smith have shown for the impoverished area that he works out of.
“It was the farmworkers issues that motivated me,” he said. “After I went to DC and testified to Congress and told them what was happening, I came back to Mississippi and kept working on those issues. But neither of those two senators who represent this state lifted a finger. And it’s federal policy that they are aware of that’s putting these workers in this situation.
“If you’re not going to come down to the Delta and let the people know that you have their back, then you need to be challenged. And that’s part of the reason that I’ve decided to run.”
Federal criminal trials in the welfare scandal are expected to begin later this year. Once the indictments come in, the federal cases go pretty quickly, a Hinds assistant DA said. The state’s criminal trials will take a little longer because some of them will develop in conjunction with the federal cases.