The Hall of Fame quarterback worked with the Mississippi governor and others to steer $5 million in welfare funds to his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, to build a volleyball stadium. Favre is unlikely to face criminal charges, but others have, and he has hired an attorney.
By Alan Hovorka for THE BADGER PROJECT
The former star quarterback of the Green Bay Packers faces a long road of legal troubles as the state of Mississippi sorts through its largest-ever public corruption scandal, a legal expert there says.
“What a mess,” Matt Steffey, professor of law at Mississippi College, said. “This has become so sprawling that trying to simplify any single aspect is challenging.”
Brett Favre sits at the center of a scheme to defraud Mississippi of millions of dollars in welfare money, which also includes the former Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.
Favre and others face a more than $20-million civil lawsuit from the state as it seeks to recover misspent welfare money that was meant to help Mississippi’s most destitute. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the union.
The state’s lawsuit claims the money secured by the state’s human services department was then funneled through a nonprofit group, the Mississippi Community Education Center, to the University of Southern Mississippi, where Favre played football, could build a new volleyball facility. Favre’s daughter was playing volleyball for the university at the time.
The leaders of the nonprofit that funneled state money to build the facility and the former head of the state’s human services department have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors, the journalism nonprofit Mississippi Today reported.
Texts released last month in that lawsuit indicate Bryant’s involvement in the scandal and show him guiding Favre on how to write successful funding proposals with the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
“If you were to pay me is there anyway (sic) the media can find out where it came from and how much?” Favre texted the head of the nonprofit in August 2017.
Mississippi Today first reported on the text messages, and has been leading the reporting on this story.
Favre has hired Eric Herschmann, a close legal aide of former President Donald Trump, amid a possible criminal indictment, Axios reported Monday. Herschmann represented Trump in his first impeachment trial. Favre previously endorsed Trump in 2020.
“I only agreed to represent Brett Favre after I did my independent due diligence and was convinced that he did nothing wrong,” Herschmann told Axios. “Brett enthusiastically tried to help his alma mater, a public university, that needed and wanted his help.”
Steffey said criminal charges for the Hall of Fame quarterback are unlikely.
“Brett Favre hasn’t faced criminal liability thus far and isn’t expected to face any going forward,” the law professor said. “He has faced civil liability, which he’s discharged by returning the state money he received. Further civil liability seems possible.”
Favre received $1.1 million in state funds for a vague promotional deal, but has since returned that money, Mississippi Today reported.
Favre could still face additional civil suits either by, or on behalf of, the state – all seeking to recover the misspent welfare grant money, Steffey said. The easy part was the state recovering money paid to the former quarterback for speeches he never made and recovering interest on that amount, he said.
What complicates Favre’s legal troubles, Steffey said, are the claims that, at Favre’s urging, the same welfare grant money for the volleyball facility was used to invest in a Florida Biotech company the former Green Bay Packer is involved in.
Steffey said uncertainty exists in whether Favre knew the source of the money for the investments came from the welfare grant money and if he personally received the volleyball or biotech investment money.
Favre’s foundation, Favre4Hope, could also face legal troubles if additional information in legal proceedings establishes a connection that money raised for the foundation was done so on false pretenses, Steffey said.
“At present, this seems more of a public relations issue than a potential civil liability,” he said.
The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.
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