Former Mississippi governor faces new subpoena in welfare case

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A lawyer is trying to force former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to post text messages or other communications about the misuse of welfare money to help fund the development of a concussion medication backed by retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre.

The intention to subpoena Bryant’s records was filed Friday in state court by Jim Waide, an attorney representing Austin Garrett Smith, a nephew of a former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

Bryant’s attorney, Billy Quin, criticized Waide’s efforts.

“This subpoena is a legal tool misused for political purposes,” Quin told The Associated Press on Monday. “We will respond in due time.”

The case is the latest twist in the biggest public corruption case in Mississippi history. It is also the second time that records have been subpoena of Bryant by a defendant in a Department of Human Services lawsuit. Bryant is a Republican who served two terms as governor, stepping down in 2020.

The department filed suit in May against more than three dozen groups or individuals, including Smith and Favre. He is seeking to recover more than $20 million in ill-spent welfare money that was supposed to help low-income families in one of the poorest states in the United States.

Smith’s uncle, John Davis, was appointed by Bryant to lead social services, and he served in the role from February 2016 to July 2019. Davis pleaded guilty last month to state and federal felony charges in a conspiracy to squander tens of millions of dollars in temporary assistance to needy families.

In Friday’s filing, Waide is looking for emails, text messages, letters or other communications to or from Bryant with Favre, Davis or several others involving a biotech company called Prevacus (now called Odyssey Health) or its affiliated company, PreSolMD.

Favre is named in the Human Services lawsuit as Prevacus’ “largest individual outside investor” and suggested that the company’s CEO, Jacob VanLandingham, ask about the use of Human Services grant money to invest in the shares of the company.

The lawsuit says $2.1 million in welfare was paid for shares in Prevacus and PreSolMD for Nancy New and her son, Zachary New, who ran nonprofit groups that received welfare from social services.

The new subpoena also requests further information from Bryant, including any communications he had with or about former professional wrestler Ted Dibiase Sr.; his two sons who were also professional wrestlers, Ted “Teddy” Dibiase Jr. and Brett Dibiase; and businesses controlled by the Dibias, which were paid for with welfare money.

In April, Nancy New and Zachary New pleaded guilty to report charges of misusing welfare money, including for lavish gifts such as first-class plane tickets to Davis. Nancy New, Zachary New and Davis have all agreed to testify against others.

Bryant, Favre and VanLandingham do not face criminal charges.

The civil trial resulted in the release of text messages from Bryant, Favre and Nancy New about millions of welfare dollars being spent on Favre’s pet project, a volleyball arena at the University of Southern Mississippi, where all three are alumni. Favre played football in college before going to the NFL in 1991, and his daughter started playing volleyball in school in 2017.

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