Confessed welfare embezzlers Nancy New and her son Zach, 39, are pointing their fingers at former governor Phil Bryant, retired pro-football player Brett Favre, and the trio of former pro-wrestler Ted DeBiase Sr. and his two sons as part of a sinister plot that funneled millions of federal welfare dollars into their own pockets and private business interests.
In addition to New and her son, State Auditor Shad White has named 36 others in a civil lawsuit seeking to recover $77 million allegedly stolen or misused by various members of the cabal.
Bryant, who as the state auditor set up the TANF program in 1996, denies that he was involved in any wrongdoing during his term as governor (2012-2020).
Nancy New’s answer to the state’s civil lawsuit on July 11, 2022 states explicitly that Bryant “directed” her to provide $1.1 million to Brett Favre and his business organizations.
New’s statement, in which she is identified as “Defendant,” at Paragraph 137 on Page 22 of the document reads as follows:
“Gov. Phil Bryant directed Defendant (Nancy New) to provide funds to Brett Favre and Defendant (Nancy New) caused MCEC (her education enterprise) to contract with Favre Enterprises, Inc. in the amount of $1.1 million in consideration for Favre speaking at events, keynote speaking, radio and promotional events, and business partner development. Favre performed services to this agreement, and payment for these services is a permissible TANF Expenditure.”
Auditor White has repeatedly accused Favre of never making speaking appearances associated with the contract. Favre, nevertheless, claims that he fulfilled his side of the contract. The ex-football pro also claims that he has repaid the $1.1 million, although the state claimed in Sept. 2021 that he still owed $282,000 for the interest.
In the constant barrage of accusations and denials in what White called the most “egregious” welfare fraud case in Mississippi history, very little has been heard from the people living in poverty who should have gotten the money provided by the federal government but got written out of the welfare benefits system instead.
Attorney Ty Pinkins of Vicksburg says the same force of the law should be applied to Favre and former Gov. Bryant that is applied to the members of low-income and under-resourced communities every day.
“The system has no pity for them,” he says. “The system will lock you up and put you behind bars forever if you break the law. People in powerful positions like Brett Favre and the former governor, when they break the law, are not held accountable as swiftly as people who don’t have power.”
Pinkins is the co-founder and director of the Pyramid Project, an effort to provide youth leadership, development, and mentorship programs especially in the Mississippi Delta, the group’s website says.
As an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice, Pinkins was part of the legal team that successfully sued three Delta farm owners in April for paying foreign white workers more than they paid the local Black workers. Pinkins said a fourth case of such discrimination is in progress. He was scheduled to testify before Congress Wednesday, July 20, about the case.
The reported theft of welfare money by state officials, he said, “is absolutely devastating.” Many single-income households live on only $15,000 or $16,000 a year.
“Whether they’re working on a farm or in health care, or whatever other capacity, it’s absolutely devastating to these families to not have the (TANF) resources,” Pinkins said.
Congressman Bennie Thompson announced on July 15 that he has asked the U. S. Attorney General to investigate Bryant’s role in the massive scandal.
“The State of Mississippi has consistently misspent Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds,” Thompson said. “Specifically, Governor Phil Bryant is alleged to have steered money toward individuals who did not meet the criteria for eligibility.”
Under Bryant’s administration, of the $135 million supplied by the federal government in 2018 for the state’s TANF program, $77 million was “misdirected due to the influence of the governor’s office,” the Congressman alleges.
“Governor Phil Bryant has clearly taken actions consistent with ensuring Mississippi’s poorest citizens are denied welfare funds meant to benefit their households,” Thompson said.
WHITE VS. BRYANT
Some representatives of poor people’s interests have expressed doubts about Shad White’s ability to prosecute the case against Bryant.
“White ran Bryant’s 2015 reelection campaign, worked for Bryant in the lieutenant governor’s office, and was initially appointed auditor by Bryant, who then helped White win election to the post,” Mississippi Today reports.
Bryant became state auditor in 1996, the same year the TANF program was adopted by the state. Bryant, in effect, was the founding father of the TANF program. A member of the Mississippi Rising Coalition questioned Bryant’s recent disclaimer that he didn’t know the amount of money he was signing over to Brett Favre in his authorizations. Nancy New says Bryant “ordered” her to pay Favre the amounts that she gave him.
Until 2021, TANF payments were locked into the 1999 payments of $170 for a family of three, usually a mother or guardian and two children under 18. Only after the scandals were exposed to the public in 2020 did the legislature set about to raise the basic amount by $90 to $260 a month for a family of three.
Community activist Rahmeel Nash owns two daycare centers in South Jackson and draws a direct connection between the theft of TANF funds and continued economic decline in low-income communities.
Nash is also affiliated with the Mississippi Rising Coalition, a multiracial, multigenerational grassroots non-partisan organization based in South Mississippi.
“TANF money helps out some of the low-income female workers,” says Nash, 49. “They need the money to help pay for daycare, for groceries, and everyday expenses.”
The misuse of the money by state officials and their cohorts, he says, should be treated as the serious crime that it is, and the perpetrators brought to justice
“What would they do if it was us – a regular, ordinary person?” Nash asks. “We would have been charged for welfare fraud, money fraud, and would have long since been sent to prison. Our leaders should be held accountable, too.”
With Mississippi as the state with the lowest level of fair and equitable wealth distribution, he says, those living below a liveable wage “need every penny that we can get to go toward our people. Now you got leaders who are always telling us we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We don’t need to hear that. We need to be trying to get out of poverty. You get money from the federal government, but you spend that money how you want to, and not how the law says you should. That’s what they call ‘cooking the books.’”
Leo Carney, a news columnist for the Mississippi Free Press and longtime community activist, is co-founder with Yvette Carnell of the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS), an advocacy group for Black justice and reparations for descendants of the chattel slavery system. ADOS, he says, is a member of the coalition the Mississippi Alliance for Public Safety (MAPS).
“ADOS is focused on criminal justice reform in Mississippi and we know that poverty is an inclination to the crime that we see in our community,” Carney said in a telephone interview Monday evening. “So, when we see something like the TANF situation with Gov. Bryant stealing the welfare funds, that takes away from our community and that contributes to and exacerbates the crime in our community.”
As far as MAPS is concerned, Carney says, the moral implication falls on State Auditor Shad White. “White has the responsibility and duty to the taxpayers to make sure that he holds all parties accountable,” he added.
Carney supports direct federal involvement in the TANF fraud case. He feels that Mississippi officials are not inclined to pursue justice.
“There should be a federal investigation launched in this case,” he said. “We don’t trust that justice will be served in a Mississippi court of law. Maybe we need a federal indictment by the FBI. They may need to step in to get justice, because I’m not sure if Shad White is capable of prosecuting this case.”
Nancy New’s two main projects charged with fraudulent use of state funds were the Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) and the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRC). Both played a central role in illegally funneling state money into criminal enterprises that led to Nancy New’s downfall and subsequent guilty plea.
Another project set up and run by Nancy New was the New Summit School with branches in Jackson, Greenwood, and Hattiesburg. New’s school operations took advantage of the state’s paucity of facilities for special needs students and the rising anti-public education “School Choice” program. Two of them have since changed their name under new ownership, and the Jackson facility has closed.