JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Attorneys for retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre argued in a new court filing Monday that a civil lawsuit against him seeking to recover misspent welfare money in Mississippi’s largest ever corruption case should be should be dismissed because the state Department of Human Services lacks evidence and is attempting to deflect from its own culpability.
Millions of federal welfare dollars intended to help low-income Mississippi residents — some of the poorest people in the country — were instead squandered on projects supported by wealthy or well-connected people, including projects backed by Favre, between 2016 and 2019, prosecutors say.
In a response to the department’s statements that a judge should ignore Favre’s request to be removed from the lawsuit, Favre’s attorneys wrote there is “no legal, factual, or moral basis” for the agency’s claims.
“It is plain that, as it did in its original complaint, MDHS — which itself carried out the allegedly wrongful transfer of funds to another state entity, a transfer approved by, among others, Mississippi’s Attorney General — continues to sue Favre solely to attract publicity for improper political purposes,” Favre’s attorneys wrote.
Last year, the Department of Human Services sued Favre and more than three dozen other people or businesses. The suit says federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money was misspent, including $5 million that went to a volleyball arena that Favre supported at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi — where his daughter also played the sport — and $1.7 million toward the development of a concussion treatment drug by a company in which Favre was an investor.
Kaytie Pickett, an attorney for the department, wrote in March court papers that Favre’s attorneys failed to provide solid legal arguments to get their client out of the lawsuit. Calling the attorneys’ motion to dismiss “a long press release,” she said the court should “disregard Favre’s diatribe.”
“MDHS deems Favre’s Motion a ‘long press release,’ but the shoe is on the other foot,” Favre’s attorneys countered Monday. They say Favre and his wife fulfilled commitments they made in a written pledge — months after the transfers that form the basis of MDHS’s claims — to raise funds to construct the volleyball facility.
Pickett declined to comment Tuesday on the new filings.
No criminal charges have been brought against the NFL Hall of Famer, although other people have pleaded guilty to their part in the misspending. Those who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges include John Davis, a former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services; and Nancy New, the director of a nonprofit organization who had ties to Favre and the concussion drug and volleyball projects.
As Favre has attempted to get out of the lawsuit, he has also filed three defamation lawsuits against Mississippi State Auditor Shad White and two former NFL players, Pat McAfee and Shannon Sharpe, who have sharply criticized Favre in their roles as national sportscasters.
“My hope is that the state can recover as much misspent welfare money — whether it’s from Mr. Favre or anyone else who bears responsibility — as possible,” White told The Associated Press Tuesday. “We are the auditors, not the lawyers who try these cases in court, but my team stands ready to provide the audit evidence for the criminal and civil cases as they proceed.”
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mikergoldberg.