JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Amid Brett Favre's media scrutiny due to his involvement in Mississippi's extensive welfare scandal, the brother of Gov. Tate Reeves recommended that the state official probing the case commend the retired NFL player.
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Text message screenshots disclosed on Thursday by Reeves' re-election campaign depict the governor’s sibling, Todd Reeves, conveying a request from Favre to Mississippi State Auditor Shad White for a positive remark about the retired sports icon. Todd Reeves messaged White on May 6, 2020, several months subsequent to the auditor's February announcement that criminal charges had been filed against six individuals suspected of redirecting welfare funds meant for some of the country's poorest citizens to the wealthy and influential.
Favre has not been indicted for any crime. However, he has claimed that the media “ unfairly tarnished ” his reputation in their coverage of the scandal, including the payments he received to support his personal project — a volleyball stadium at his alma mater where his daughter was participating in the sport.
“Brett would appreciate it if you could say something like ‘the investigation (up to this point) shows Brett hasn't done anything wrong and the money he's returning for commercials and Psa’s is out of his own goodwill,’" Todd Reeves messaged White.
Another message from Todd Reeves indicated that journalists were “pestering” Favre.
In anticipation of a story by Mississippi Today about Reeves’ brother, the re-election campaign for Gov. Reeves, a Republican candidate, disclosed the text messages.
On the day Todd Reeves messaged White, the auditor issued a statement praising Favre for reimbursing $500,000 from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“I commend Mr. Favre for his sincere effort to rectify this and compensate the taxpayers and TANF families," White stated in the 2020 announcement. ”So far, we haven't found any records suggesting Mr. Favre was aware that TANF was the source of the money he received.”
Fletcher Freeman, a spokesperson for White, stated on Friday that everything the auditor declared in that statement was accurate at the time.
“Subsequently, when more proof was discovered indicating Mr. Favre knew the funds were meant for people in ‘shelters’ and that Mr. Favre attempted to conceal this from the media, Auditor White candidly highlighted this to the public,” Freeman stated, referring to the misappropriation of funds intended for anti-poverty initiatives like state-funded shelters. "Auditor White has been brutally truthful about Mr. Favre’s involvement each time new evidence emerges, which is why Mr. Favre has consistently criticized him.”
In February, Favre filed a defamation lawsuit against White and two national sports commentators.
In its news release on Thursday, Reeves' campaign also included a statement from Todd Reeves. The governor's brother stated that he connected Favre and White to facilitate the repayment of misused TANF funds.
“I’ve had a friendly relationship with Brett for years, and I've always heard positive things about Shad. I wasn't aware of this TANF issue or Brett’s dealings with the state until it made headlines," Todd Reeves stated. “When Brett was contemplating repaying the funds, he asked me if I could assist him in contacting the auditor to arrange that--so that’s what I did.”
So far, Favre has returned $1.1 million he received from a nonprofit that inappropriately used TANF funds with the state Department of Human Services' approval. He still has to pay $228,000 in interest, according to White.
In response to a series of questions emailed by The Associated Press, a Reeves spokesperson stated that the campaign disclosed every text between Todd Reeves and White.
The welfare scandal has emerged as a contentious issue in Mississippi's gubernatorial election. Reeves has claimed he had no involvement in the scandal, while his Democratic rival, Brandon Presley, has argued that Reeves didn't do enough to prevent it when he was lieutenant governor.
“The Reeves administration has initiated lawsuits against everyone who the state believes needs to repay money, and the only thing that might hinder that effort is Democrats lying to make the scandal a campaign issue,” the spokesperson stated. "Their allegations necessitate belief in time travel. As Todd stated in his statement, Brett believed he hadn't done anything wrong and he was assisting in persuading him to return the money anyway."
As recently as Wednesday, the auditor's office had been battling Mississippi Today in court to avoid releasing the text messages in response to public records requests. The next day, the governor's campaign disclosed texts the auditor had been reluctant to reveal amid an ongoing investigation. There's no evidence that the governor’s campaign informed the auditor in advance about its decision to release the messages, and the campaign didn't answer a question asking if they had.
The auditor's office had argued that disclosing the messages could jeopardize its ongoing investigation into the welfare scandal and hinder efforts to recover misappropriated funds.
“The Auditor’s office will not disclose any text messages related to any case as they are part of an investigative file,” Freeman stated. “Our responsibility is to investigate stolen or misused taxpayer funds and then hand the case over to prosecutors to do their job.”
Last year, the Mississippi Department of Human Services, under new leadership, filed a civil lawsuit against Favre, along with over three dozen other individuals and businesses, in an attempt to recover more than $20 million of the misused welfare money.