Mississippi, the state that honors Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre as a homegrown hero, this week threatened to sue him if he doesn’t pay back $828,000 within 30 days, according to the state auditor.
Mr. Favre was one of more than 10 people who received letters from state accountant, Shad White, demanding the repayment of tens of millions of dollars related to an elaborate fraud scheme involving misappropriated welfare aid.
In May 2020, a damning audit found that the state of Mississippi had allowed millions of dollars in poverty alleviation funds to be used in ways that did little or nothing to help the poor, with two nonprofits instead using the money for lobbyists, football tickets, religious concerts and fitness programs for state legislators.
The settlement led to criminal charges against six people, including the former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, who was charged with conspiring with administrators of the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center and the center’s accountant to defraud taxpayers and create false invoices. Mr Favre has not been charged.
The former executive director, John Davis, is to pay $96.3 million — including interest — for his role in approving more than $77 million in illegal social spending, Mr White said.
Mr. White said Mr. Favre, 52, had received $1.1 million from the Mississippi Community Education Center in speaking fees for performances he never made. The payments he received in December 2017 and June 2018 were paid with federal welfare benefits, Mr White said.
mr. Favre was unaware that the money was intended for needy families, Mr. white. Mr. Favre made a $500,000 payment to Mr. White’s office in May 2020 and agreed to pay the remaining $600,000 in the coming months, the accountant said.
But Mr. Favre never paid the remaining balance, Mr. White said. In a letter dated Tuesday, the accountant demanded that Mr Favre pay the $600,000 balance as well as an additional $228,000 in interest within 30 days or he would have to file a lawsuit.
“It’s time for taxpayers to try and get back what we’ve lost,” Mr White said in a statement.
The letter was addressed to Mr. Favre and to Favre Enterprises and Robert L. Culumber, a business associate. A representative of Mr Favre did not immediately respond to messages on Wednesday, nor did Mr Culumber.
Favre, who grew up in Mississippi and played football at the University of Southern Mississippi, played twenty seasons in the National Football League, most with the Green Bay Packers, with whom he won Super Bowl XXXI in 1997.
In a series of tweets last year, Mr. Favre wrote that he had appeared in advertisements for an information center in Mississippi that had received benefits. He also said that he had never received money for obligations that he did not fulfill.
“To reiterate auditors White’s statement, I was unaware that the money distributed was paid from funds not intended for that purpose, and so I am returning the full amount to Mississippi,” Mr Favre wrote in May 2020 .
Mr. Favre wrote that he had donated nearly $10 million through his Favre 4 Hope charity to help underprivileged and underprivileged children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.
“I would certainly never do anything to take away the kids I fought for!” He wrote. “I love Mississippi and I would never knowingly do anything to take away those who need it most.”
The Mississippi Community Education Center had hired Favre Enterprises to appear at events, record promotions and provide signatures for marketing materials from July 1, 2017 to July 31, 2018, according to a state audit.
There was no mention of the contract price in the documents provided to state officials, the audit said.
The center provided a list of dates and events and said Favre Enterprises had complied with the contract terms. But state officials said auditors determined that Mr Favre was neither speaking nor attending those events.
He is not the only prominent figure who, according to Mr White, could face charges if they fail to refund money related to the fraud scheme within 30 days.
Heart of David Ministry, a Christian ministry run by former WWE wrestler Ted DiBiase Sr., known as the Million Dollar Man, is to repay $722,299, Mr. white. The ministry and Mr DiBiase did not immediately respond to messages.
One of the sons of Mr. DiBiase, Ted DiBiase Jr., who is also a former professional wrestler, must repay $3.9 million, Mr. white. Another son, Brett DiBiase, who is also a former professional wrestler and was charged last year in connection with the fraud scheme, will have to pay $225,950, Mr. white.
State auditors said Brett DiBiase was paid with social funds to teach classes on drug use. However, he never gave those classes because he was being treated for an opioid addiction at the Rise Rehabilitation Center in Malibu, California, auditors said.
Brett DiBiase pleaded guilty last year to one count of making fraudulent statements with the aim of defrauding the government, according to The Clarion-Ledger.