Disgraced DHS director expected to testify about sprawling welfare scandal for investigators, plea agreement says

Hinds DA vows to go ‘up the ladder’ to identify others involved in $77M embezzlement scheme
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 9:02 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With former Mississippi Department of Human Services director John Davis’ guilty plea comes the expectation that he’ll provide investigators with information and insight into the largest public embezzlement scheme in state history, according to a plea agreement approved by a federal judge.

That information could point agents toward Davis’ boss, former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.

“The guilty plea [Thursday] is significant. It is the first time in two-and-a-half years since his initial arrest that he has the ability, and frankly the incentive to offer information about what he knows, about how this scheme was perpetuated over the last four years of the Phil Bryant administration,” said Mississippi Today investigative reporter Anna Wolfe.

Wolfe first revealed the connection between the former governor and the welfare scandal months ago, through texts that showed Bryant’s knowledge of projects tied to federal welfare dollars.

The link between Bryant, a former state auditor, and the misdirected money got even stronger after Nancy New and her son Zach agreed to a plea deal in April, then claimed in court documents that Bryant directed Nancy to pay Favre more than a million dollars for speeches he didn’t give.

“I don’t think that prosecutors really needed Nancy in order to prosecute John Davis,” Wolfe said. “Prosecutors definitely need John Davis to look at the behavior of Phil Bryant, because that’s how the chain of command was operating.”

Last week, text messages filed in court linked Bryant to $5 million in welfare dollars that instead went to a new volleyball stadium at Southern Miss and $2 million that flowed to a pharmaceutical startup company.

“Just left Brett Favre. Can we help him with his project (sic). We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects on course,” Bryant texted Nancy New in July 2019.

“He was directly communicating with Nancy New and Brett Favre about this project, going as far as to help them rewrite proposals so that they would pass muster at the Department of Human Services after John Davis was ousted from office,” Wolfe said. “They didn’t just embezzle the money and then put it in the volleyball stadium construction, they had to write a creative grant in order to sort of giving the impression that the project was going to serve people in poverty.”

Bryant has not been charged with a crime.

Favre has maintained publicly and through his attorney that he didn’t know the money given to him was intended to help poor Mississippians.

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