Former Miss. governor directed $1.1 million welfare payment to Trump-supporting NFL legend Brett Favre: defendant

JACKSON, Mississippi – Former Gov. Phil Bryant instructed his wife’s friend — whose nonprofit was receiving millions in subgrants from the welfare department he oversaw — to pay NFL legend Brett Favre $1.1 million, according to a new court filing.

Nancy New alleges Bryant directed this and other spending, resulting in a massive scandal and what officials have called the largest public embezzlement scheme in state history.

Nancy New, a friend of former First Lady Deborah Bryant, and her son Zach New have pleaded guilty to several criminal charges, including bribery and fraud. As part of their plea, a favorable deal which recommends they spend no time in state prison, the News have agreed to cooperate in an ongoing criminal investigation.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services is also suing Nancy New civilly, asking the court to make her repay $19.4 million. The department alleges New and 37 other defendants, including Favre, violated federal rules when they spent or received money from a federal block grant called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

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But Bryant, who had the statutory oversight responsibility over the department’s spending, has remained insulated from official liability. Mississippi Today, in its investigative series “The Backchannel,” first reported the former governor’s role in the scandal based on a trove of text messages between Bryant, Favre and other key defendants in the case.

New’s filing marks the first time Bryant has been directly, publicly accused of wrongdoing by main defendants in the case.

“Defendant reasonably relied on then-Governor Phil Bryant, acting within his broad statutory authority as chief executive of the State, including authority over MDHS and TANF, and his extensive knowledge of Permissible TANF Expenditures from 12 years as State Auditor, four years as Lieutenant Governor, and a number of years as Governor leading up to and including the relevant time period,” reads New’s response to the MDHS civil complaint filed Monday.

New rejected the notion officials have made throughout the three-year investigation that John Davis, Bryant’s appointed welfare agency director who is also facing criminal charges, was a rogue state bureaucrat who independently chose to misspend tens of millions of welfare dollars.

The bombshell response from Nancy New, her sons Zach New and Jess New and her nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center, who are also defendants in the civil suit, argue that MDHS is more at fault than it has represented. The court filings name dozens of officials and state employees who acted alongside Davis to perpetuate the scheme — with Bryant named first in the list.

Bryant’s spokesperson Denton Gibbes denied New’s assertion. “She’s pointing her finger at everybody but the Easter Bunny,” Gibbes told Mississippi Today. “This is just legal hogwash.”

THE BACKCHANNEL: Phil Bryant had his sights on a payout as welfare funds flowed to Brett Favre

Bryant and the dozens of other state actors are referenced in the filing as “MDHS Executives.” New’s answer also claims that Davis and MDHS Executives directed her “to provide $5 million on behalf of the State of Mississippi to Prevacus, Inc. during a meeting with Jake Vanlandingham at Brett Favre’s home.”

The News ended up paying Prevacus, an experimental concussion drug company, and its affiliate PreSolMD a total of $2.1 million — payments that were pivotal to the criminal investigation and charges against the News.

In his last year as governor, Bryant was heavily involved in discussions about luring Prevacus to Mississippi, specifically to a new development called Tradition that Bryant had touted. Bryant helped the company find investors, make political connections and he even agreed to accept stock in Prevacus in January of 2020, Mississippi Today first reported in its investigative series, “The Backchannel.” His deal with Prevacus was derailed when agents from the state auditor’s office made arrests shortly after.

The News’ recent filings are the first to reveal that state officials and employees actually intended to pay Prevacus $5 million through the nonprofit. The filing does not specifically say which “MDHS Executives” directed this investment.

Mississippi Community Education Center is also countersuing MDHS, claiming that the welfare agency breached their contract. The nonprofit asks that if it is required to pay back any of the funds as a result of the civil suit, it should be able to recoup the same amount back from MDHS, plus other relief.

An additional motion to stay discovery in the case asks the court to allow Nancy and Zach New to wait until their criminal cases have concluded before complying with discovery in the civil suit. Their April plea agreement suggests that investigators may have their sights on other co-conspirators that the News will be expected to help officials prosecute.

In the News’ motion to stay, their attorney finds several faults with MDHS’s allegations.

Primarily, the News argue that TANF rules have always allowed states to spend the block grant in a variety of ways, including on programs that serve people who earn up to 350% of the poverty line, which is currently $97,125. The state has even boasted in its official state plans about how it has taken advantage of the flexibility of TANF dollars.

Only now, the News argue, after many of these “absurd expenditures” have come to public light, has the state revised its interpretation of the TANF statute to be more narrowly tailored to activities that actually help the poor.

“MDHS has had a 25-year love affair with TANF’s extreme flexibility. MDHS cannot now divest itself of its contractual obligations simply because it is politically and financially expedient to do so,” the motion reads.

The News have been targeted by investigators and law enforcement, the filings argues, without holding others who perpetuated this pattern of spending accountable.

“The New Defendants will be substantially and irreparably harmed if forced to participate in discovery amidst giants poised for what promises to be a no-holds-barred death match,” the motion reads. “…The New Defendants have taken responsibility for their roles, yet they continue to be thrust into the crossfire by powerful forces fighting over political futures and tens of millions of dollars. The State wants to avoid liability and embarrassment, the Feds want their money back, and the public wants answers.”

Read the entire motion.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Drinking water from the Mississippi River has ‘forever chemicals’

Drinking water that is drawn from the Mississippi River by three Iowa cities has toxic chemicals that persist indefinitely in the environment, according to test results released this week by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Burlington, Davenport and Keokuk drinking water that goes to a combined total of more than 183,000 residents contains trace amounts of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

The DNR tests of the water are part of the department’s survey of dozens of community water supplies across the state in recent months. Previously published tests found PFAS in Ames, Sioux City, Rock Valley and West Des Moines water.

The new data also show the presence of PFAS in other Mississippi River towns of Camanche and Muscatine, but they draw water from wells.

The tests revealed combined concentrations of two prominent PFAS — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) — of fewer than 10 parts per trillion, which is well below the current federal safety threshold of 70 parts per trillion. However, it was the first time the DNR tests found the chemicals in notable concentrations in a major river, where large amounts of water can hide contaminations.

“There’s a huge dilution factor,” said Shane Johnson, general manager of Burlington Municipal Waterworks.

Tests of Burlington water found combined PFAS concentrations of 6.5 parts per trillion in the raw water that is drawn from the Mississippi and slightly higher concentrations of 7.2 parts per trillion in its treated water. The city will test its water every three months to monitor the contaminant levels.

The precise sources of contamination are unclear because the river drains such a large area upstream, including parts of Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“You don’t know what’s above you,” Johnson said. “You don’t know who’s dumping what in there.”

In 2018, the state of Minnesota reached an $850 million settlement with 3M Company — a major manufacturer of the chemicals that have been used to make non-stick and stain-resistant coatings for a variety of household items. The case involved the contamination of about 150 square miles of groundwater near the Mississippi and one of its tributaries, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

No other tests of municipal water supplies in Iowa along the river were planned as part of the DNR’s recent survey, said Corey McCoid, a supervisor of the DNR’s Water Supply Operations Section. He said the tests are not meant to determine sources of contamination, but that upstream industrial facilities and wastewater plants are likely contributors.

McCoid said tests of Illinois cities along the Mississippi have yielded similar results.

David Cwiertny, director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa, reviewed Iowa’s results and was troubled by the consistency of the contamination of a large river, as measured in cities that are many miles apart.

“This suggests that the Mississippi River, at least along the 100-mile plus stretch between Davenport down to Keokuk, contains a mixture of PFAS chemicals, and any other community in that area using the Mississippi as a water supply could be vulnerable to PFAS exposure,” Cwiertny said. “Given the size of the Mississippi River, at those concentrations, we are talking on the order of kilograms of PFAS chemicals per day being discharged down the Mississippi.”

He said the test results further illustrate the pervasiveness of PFAS in the environment. Researchers have been unable to determine how long it takes the chemicals to degrade naturally, and they have a tendency to accumulate in people’s bodies. Research has shown the chemicals can cause cancers and other ailments when ingested by people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the vast majority of Americans have detectable amounts of PFAS in their blood.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Dillard University becomes third Louisiana HBCU to receive bomb threat

NEW ORLEANS — Dillard University closed its Gentilly campus after receiving a bomb threat Friday morning, campus officials announced on social media.

There was no update on the threat as of 5 p.m. Friday.

Two HBCUs in Virginia also reported bomb threats Friday, including the second so far at Norfolk State University, according to WVEC-TV.

Dillard is the third historically Black university in Louisiana to receive a bomb threat and one of several Black institutions nationwide that have been targets of what the FBI has classified as hate crimes. Xavier University in New Orleans and the main campus of Southern University in Baton Rouge also reported threats earlier this month. As with other cases around the country, law enforcement found no evidence of explosives.

The FBI has said it considers the incidents “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism.” More than 20 of its field offices are involved in the investigation.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

KKK may have been involved in Louisiana man's disappearance six decades ago

This story was written by Claire Sullivan and Eternity Honore for the LSU Manship School News Service.

Six decades after a Louisiana man's disappearance and presumed murder, his family is still looking for answers and a body to bury.

Carl Ray Thompson, then 26, spotted his cousin's two-toned Buick on the side of the Ferriday-Vidalia highway as he sat in the back of a sheriff's car in July 1964.

His cousin, Joseph “Joe-Ed" Edwards, had gone missing just a couple days prior, his family left with only rumors as to his whereabouts.

Thompson had spent a night sitting in a Ferriday jail cell for a robbery he did not participate in, listening as sheriff's deputies beat three or four other young Black men arrested for the crime. As the night dragged on, Thompson felt his turn for a beating coming. But morning came, and the arrival of the regular office staff spared him the brutality the deputies reserved for the privacy of night.

As deputy Frank DeLaughter drove the men to the parish jail in Vidalia that morning, he pointed out the green-white Buick, belonging to Edwards, on the side of the highway.

DeLaughter, 6 feet 4 inches and 280 pounds, peered at Thompson through his rearview mirror. He told the men that if any of them spoke about what happened the night before, they would meet the same fate as Edwards.

No arrests were ever made in Edwards' case, but FBI files and tips from local residents suggest that members of a Ku Klux Klan organization known as the Silver Dollar Group–and sheriff's deputies, including DeLaughter and Bill Ogden–were responsible for the disappearance and presumed murder of Edwards, who was in his mid-20s. His disappearance is the only Civil Rights-era cold case examined by the FBI in which a body has never been found.

Still, Thompson, Edwards' sister Julia Dobbins and other family members remain hopeful that they may someday give Edwards a proper burial.

“I was really hurt that they never told us what really happened to my brother," Dobbins said. “Everybody lied from one person to the other. I had got disgusted with people."

Dobbins said she would sit every day, waiting for her brother to come home to visit his 11 siblings, like he always had. But weeks, months and years passed, and he never came.

The FBI surmised that the Silver Dollar Group targeted Edwards after he kissed a white woman he worked with at the Shamrock Motor Motel in Vidalia one afternoon in July 1964. According to the FBI files, the woman reported the incident to her boyfriend, who, in turn, reported it to Vidalia Police Chief Johnnie “Bud" Spinks. Spinks and another man visited the woman's house, where she declined to press charges against Edwards.

Spinks, according to an FBI informant who was a Silver Dollar Group member, turned to the group, led by Raleigh “Red" Glover of Vidalia. The FBI listed DeLaughter and Ogden as members of the group, which acted as a Klan hit squad.

One witness saw a Buick matching the description of Edwards' vehicle and an unmarked police car pulled over on the side of the Ferriday-Vidalia highway by what was then the Dixie Lane Bowling Alley. Another witness told the FBI that Edwards ran up the levee after being pulled over and that Ogden pursued him in his patrol car while DeLaughter chased him on foot.

The FBI investigated the case from 1964 to 1968 and took another look at it from 2007 to 2014. The bureau identified seven individuals–including Glover, Spinks, DeLaughter and Ogden–as “most likely suspects" but said it could not determine what happened to Edwards. However, multiple witnesses pointed to the sheriff's office deputies as the main participants in his disappearance.

Reporters for the LSU Cold Case Project are now reviewing hundreds of pages of FBI files and tips from other people to try to figure out the most likely places where Edwards might have been buried.

If you have any information that might help, please contact the LSU professors overseeing the project, Christopher Drew at 225-578-3984 or lsucoldcaseproject@gmail.com or Stanley Nelson at stanley@concordiasentinel.com.

Edwards grew up just south of Natchez, Mississippi, in an unincorporated community called Sibley. In the 1950s, he moved with his grandparents to Clayton, Louisiana.

As a child and an adult, Edwards had a vibrant, outgoing personality. He was a small man at 5 feet 6 inches and 160 pounds. Thompson said that wherever they went, Edwards would always try to start a conversation with someone.

The FBI agents who worked on Edwards' case were astounded at how well known a motel porter, who mowed grass and cleaned rooms, had become among Klansmen and the Sheriff's Office. His reputation for flirting with white women spread through the community, and some people said that Edwards helped manage prostitution activities at the Shamrock.

Ill will against Edwards from local white supremacists mounted in the days before his presumed murder.

Thompson and other family members pleaded with Edwards to leave the Shamrock, which was frequented by Klansmen and sheriff's deputies. But Edwards would not listen.

Thompson said that one day Edwards came to his house and told him a man had pulled a gun on him at the Shamrock. Thompson told Edwards not to come around to his house anymore unless he quit his job, saying he was living too dangerous of a life.

Thompson feared there could be repercussions for their family, and he felt them that night after Edwards' disappearance when he was held in jail with the other young Black men.

After Thompson had been transferred to the Vidalia courthouse, prominent local businessman Joe Pasternack called the Sheriff's Office and demanded he be released, vouching that Thompson had never stolen anything in his life.

Ogden, one of the deputies who would become a suspect in Edwards' disappearance, then escorted Thompson to the front door of the Sheriff's Office and told him to run home as fast as he could.

Dobbins and Thompson described Edwards as a sociable, generous man who always looked out for his family.

“He wouldn't hardly miss a date coming to my house," Thompson said. “Now you don't think that's love?"

Dobbins said her brother would want to be remembered as “the good and kind-hearted fellow like he was."

The subject of Edwards' disappearance remains difficult for the family. Since the subjects connected to the presumed murder are all dead, finding the body is the sole resolution left for the family.

Thompson said that those responsible for his cousin's death could have at least given the family a body to bury.

As for justice, he said, “God can take care of that."

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.