By Dianne Gallagher and Jamiel Lynch, CNN
Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has again been subpoenaed amid an ongoing civil suit in a multimillion-dollar welfare fraud scandal, and this time attorneys want to see communications between the ex-governor and former NFL and Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.
Attorneys for one of the defendants in the state of Mississippi’s suit issued the subpoena Friday, asking for several years’ worth of additional documents and communications between Bryant and Favre, as well as others connected to the case that auditors say resulted in at least $77 million in federal welfare dollars being misspent.
The lawsuit stems from an investigation into how the state spent tens of millions of dollars in federal money that was intended to go to those most in need, according to the state’s auditor.
The subpoena was filed by attorneys representing Austin Smith, who is being sued by the state. Smith is the nephew of John Davis, the former Mississippi Department of Human Services director who pleaded guilty to state and federal charges related to the welfare scheme last month.
The state is suing Smith for the return of more than $425,00 in welfare contracts it alleges were paid to him by nonprofits that received the money from his uncle. Smith’s attorneys have said in filings that he was unaware the payments he received came from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds.
The October 7 subpoena is part of Smith’s defense efforts, in which his attorneys have argued the state unfairly chose only certain individuals to include in its massive civil lawsuit to recoup the stolen funds, noting he and 37 other people and entities were named but others, like Bryant, were not.
Much of the new, wide-ranging subpoena focuses on texts, documents, and other communications related to pharmaceutical company Prevacus and its corporate affiliate PreSolMD.
Favre was the “largest individual outside investor and holder of corporate stock” in Prevacus, according to the state’s lawsuit. The former quarterback also at times served as spokesperson for a concussion drug it was manufacturing.
The state’s civil lawsuit alleges that in 2018, Favre encouraged Prevacus CEO Jacob VanLandingham to “solicit (nonprofit founder) Nancy New to use MDHS grant proceeds to invest in the stock of Prevacus.” New has already been criminally convicted in the scheme and agreed to cooperate with authorities in ongoing investigations.
Over the next year, more than $2 million in welfare funds was diverted to the company “for the purpose of securing ‘clinical trial sites’ to be located within Mississippi in order to promote an experimental anti-concussion drug” but, according to the state’s lawsuit, was instead used to buy stock in Prevacus for the people involved in the scheme.
Favre’s spokesperson on Sunday night declined to comment on the latest filing. Bryant’s attorney, William M. Quin II, told CNN “the subpoena is a legal tool being misused for political purposes. We will respond in due course.”
CNN also left messages with VanLandingham’s attorney and at his residence, but neither were returned Sunday evening.
Reporting from Mississippi Today earlier this year revealed text messages obtained by journalist Anna Wolfe between Favre and then-Gov. Bryant discussing Prevacus with Favre. Wolfe also reported the texts showed Bryant agreed to accept a stock options offer days after he left office, but the former governor severed any ties with the company after six people, including New and Davis, were arrested in February 2020 for connections to the welfare scheme.
CNN has not independently verified the text messages that appeared in Mississippi Today, but Bryant did give an interview to Mississippi Today about the exchanges.
In that interview, Bryant acknowledged “it doesn’t look good,” but maintained he did not know public funds were being used for Prevacus, even though Favre said in a text to Bryant there was funding for the company from the state of Mississippi. Bryant said he did not read his texts carefully enough and failed to notice or connect the dots in terms of the funding source. He insisted in the interview with Mississippi Today that he “never asked for, received or wanted stock in that company.”
The texts between Favre and Bryant published in Mississippi Today are requested in the October 7 subpoena issued by Smith’s attorneys.
It isn’t the first time communications with the quarterback have come up as part of the civil lawsuit related to misspent welfare funds. Text messages released last month allegedly show Bryant worked to help Favre obtain funds to build a volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi. Favre played football for the school from 1987-1990 and his daughter played volleyball there 2017-2022.
Mississippi Today has reported that at least $5 million of welfare funds were channeled to build the volleyball facility.
Neither Smith, Favre, VanLandingham, nor Bryant have been criminally charged with anything related to this matter. Bryant also has not been named as a defendant in the state’s civil suit. Smith, VanLandingham and Favre, however, are all named as defendants in the state’s large civil suit trying to claw back some of the funds misspent in the scheme.
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