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Mississippi threatens to sue Brett Favre over $828,000

In this Oct. 17, 2018, file photo, former NFL quarterback Brett Favre spoke with reporters in Jackson, Miss.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Mississippi, the state that reveres Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre as a homegrown hero, threatened this week to sue him if he does not repay $828,000 that he owes within 30 days, according to the state auditor.

Favre was among more than 10 people who were sent letters from the state auditor, Shad White, demanding repayment of tens of millions of dollars connected to an extensive fraud scheme involving misspent welfare aid.

In May 2020, a scathing audit found that the state of Mississippi had allowed millions of dollars in anti-poverty funds to be used in ways that did little or nothing to help the poor, with two nonprofit groups instead using the money on lobbyists, football tickets, religious concerts and fitness programs for state lawmakers.

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The scheme led to criminal charges against six people, including the former executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, who was accused of conspiring with administrators at the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center and the center’s accountant to defraud taxpayers and create phony invoices. Favre has not been charged.

The former executive director, John Davis, must pay $96.3 million — which includes interest — for his role in authorizing more than $77 million in illegal welfare spending, White said.

White said that Favre, 52, had received $1.1 million from the Mississippi Community Education Center in speaking fees for appearances that he never made. The payments he received in December 2017 and June 2018 had been paid for with federal welfare grants, White said.

Favre had no knowledge that the money had been intended to benefit needy families, White said. Favre made a $500,000 payment to White’s office in May 2020 and agreed to pay the remaining $600,000 over the next few months, the auditor said.

But Favre never paid the remaining balance, White said. In a letter Tuesday, the auditor demanded that Favre pay the $600,000 balance as well as an additional $228,000 in interest in 30 days or, he said, he would be required to initiate a lawsuit.

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“It’s time for the taxpayers to attempt to recover what we lost,” White said in a statement.

The letter was addressed to Favre as well as to Favre Enterprises and Robert L. Culumber, a business associate. A representative for Favre did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday, nor did Culumber.

Favre, who grew up in Mississippi and played football at the University of Southern Mississippi, spent 20 seasons in the NFL, most of them with the Green Bay Packers, with whom he won a Super Bowl in 1997.

In a series of tweets last year, Favre wrote that he had appeared in ads for a resource center in Mississippi that had been a recipient of welfare grants. He also said that he had never received any money for any obligations that he did not meet.

“To reiterate Auditors White’s statement, I was unaware that the money being dispersed was paid for out of funds not intended for that purpose, and because of that I am refunding the full amount back to Mississippi,” Favre wrote in May 2020.

Favre wrote that he had donated nearly $10 million through his Favre 4 Hope charity to help underprivileged and underserved children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.

“I would certainly never do anything to take away from the children I have fought to help!” he wrote. “I love Mississippi and I would never knowingly do anything to take away from those that need it most.”

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The Mississippi Community Education Center had hired Favre Enterprises to appear at events, record promotions and provide autographs 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 that were provided to state officials, the audit said.

The center provided a list of dates and events, saying Favre Enterprises had fulfilled the contract terms. But state officials said that auditors had determined that Favre did not speak, nor was he present at those events.

He is not the only prominent figure who, according to White, could be sued if they fail within 30 days to repay money connected to the fraud scheme.

Heart of David Ministry, a Christian ministry that is controlled by the former WWE wrestler Ted DiBiase Sr., who is known as the Million Dollar Man, must repay $722,299, White said. The ministry and DiBiase did not immediately respond to messages.

One of DiBiase’s sons, Ted DiBiase Jr., who is also a former professional wrestler, must repay $3.9 million, White said. Another son, Brett DiBiase, who is also a former professional wrestler and was charged in connection with the fraud scheme last year, must pay $225,950, White said.

State auditors said that Brett DiBiase had been paid with welfare funds to teach classes about drug use. He never taught those classes, however, because he was being treated for an opioid addiction at the Rise in Malibu rehab center in California, auditors said.

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Brett DiBiase pleaded guilty last year to one count of making fraudulent statements for the purpose of defrauding the government, according to The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson.