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The lawyer tasked with probing ex-NFL quarterback Brett Favre, former Gov. Phil Bryant and others in a sprawling $94 million Mississippi welfare fraud scheme has been fired by the state.
Brad Pigott, a former U.S. attorney leading the investigation for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, was informed of his termination by MDHS Director Bob Anderson on Friday. He told Mississippi Today that he wasn't given cause for his dismissal but was told that it wasn't related to the quality of his work. He believes that it was politically motivated.
“All I did and I believe all that caused me to be terminated from representing the department or having anything to do with the litigation was to try to get the truth about all of that," Pigott said.
MDHS is overseen by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves. Pigott, a Democrat, anticipates that another Republican will take his place.
“I am sure they can find a loyal Republican lawyer to do the work,” Pigott continued.
Officials from MDHS and the Mississippi attorney general’s office didn't respond to calls from Mississippi Today seeking comment. Shelby Wilcher, a spokeswoman for Reeves, released a statement on Saturday that “it was decided that a semiretired solo practitioner was not the right person to sign on for more work.”
Favre accused of accepting millions in misspent welfare funds
A state audit in 2020 alleged that MDHS misspent $94 million in federal funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program intended to assist at-need residents in one of the nation's poorest states. Pigott filed a lawsuit in May seeking to recoup roughly $24 million of the funds.
The suit named 38 defendants including Favre and ex-MDHS Director John Davis. Davis was appointed by Bryant during the ex-governor's tenure. Per the lawsuit, Davis allegedly worked with non-profits to improperly distribute TANF funds. Davis also faces 20 criminal charges connected to the scandal including conspiracy, embezzlement, bribery and fraud.
The suit seeks $3.2 million from Favre and Favre Enterprises. Per the suit, Favre and his business partner Jake VanLandingham solicited TANF funds from Nancy New for Florida pharmaceutical start-up Prevacus, which claimed to be developing a drug to treat concussions. New, a friend of former First Lady Deborah Bryant who ran a non-profit with her son Zach, pleaded guilty in April to charges of misusing public funds.
Per the lawsuit, Favre hosted VanLandingham, Davis and the News at a 2019 meeting in his home where the News agreed to pay $1.7 million in TANF funds to Prevacus with a promise that the company would conduct its clinical trials in Mississippi. Favre is also listed in the suit as having accepted $1.1 million for no-show speaking engagements.
Favre has repaid the $1.1 million while the state still seeks a $228,000 interest payment. He does not face criminal charges.
Southern Miss volleyball facility a focus of probe
Pigott filed a subpoena earlier in July targeting Bryant's communications regarding $5 million in TANF funds spent to build a new volleyball facility at Favre's alma mater Southern Mississippi. Favre's daughter played on the volleyball team. Mississippi Today reports that Favre wrote in a text message to VanLandingham that New arranged the volleyball facility funding.
“She has strong connections and gave me 5 million for Vball facility via grant money,” Favre wrote in 2018, per Mississippi Today.
Pigott told Mississippi Today that he was blocked from initially including the $5 million in volleyball facility money in the civil lawsuit.
“I was forbidden to do so by political operatives who regard themselves as higher up than the director of the MDHS.”
He told the New York Times on Saturday that he believes his firing was directly related to the Southern Miss inquiry.
“I believe I was fired as a result of a pattern of orders from the Mississippi governor’s office concerning protecting an entity, called the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation, from any responsibility in this matter,” Pigott said.
Wilcher vowed that the probe to recover the funds would continue.
“This work to recover misspent funds will continue uninterrupted, with a full-service law firm that is capable of handling it professionally,” she said.