Mississippi ex-governor expected stake in firm that got welfare money, says woman convicted in fraud


JACKSON, Miss. — Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said at a party weeks before leaving office that he had been offered a financial stake in a company that received welfare money to try to develop a concussion drug and was connected to retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, according to a new court filing by a person convicted in a welfare misspending case.

Nancy New had a close working relationship with Favre and Bryant while the Republican was governor, and she made the allegation about Bryant in court papers Monday. New said that at a 2019 Christmas party, Bryant talked about Jake Vanlandingham, founder of the Florida-based biotech company Prevacus.

“Governor Bryant got excited and told me that Jake had offered him ‘half the company,’ which I understood to mean a substantial amount of stock, but the Governor said he was going to have to wait until he was out of office to accept,” New wrote.

The Associated Press left a voicemail message Wednesday at a number affiliated with Vanlandingham. He did not immediately respond.

Denton Gibbes, a spokesperson for Bryant, said the former governor cannot comment on New’s allegations because a judge issued an order in 2020 to prevent prosecutors, defense attorneys and others from publicly discussing the criminal case against New.

“If there wasn’t a gag order in place, we’d forcefully respond,” Gibbes said Wednesday. “We’ll let our libel action against Mississippi Today speak for us.”

Bryant filed a lawsuit in July against Mississippi Today, saying the online news organization had defamed him in its coverage of welfare misspending that officials say occurred from 2016 to 2019. The organization has asked a judge to dismiss the suit, saying its coverage is constitutionally protected speech.

Bryant, Favre and Vanlandingham are not facing criminal charges over welfare misspending in what officials have said is Mississippi’s largest public corruption case. State Auditor Shad White has said New is connected to many parts of the case. She was director of Mississippi Community Education Center, a nonprofit organization that spent welfare money through the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

New pleaded guilty to bribery and other charges in April 2022 and agreed to testify against others. She awaits sentencing, and her latest court filing was in response to a civil lawsuit that the state filed in May 2022 against about three dozen other people, including New, Favre and Vanlandingham. The state seeks to recover more than $20 million in misspent welfare money, including some that went to a volleyball facility that Favre supported at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Bryant was governor from 2013 to 2020 and chose John Davis as director of the state Department of Human Services. Davis pleaded guilty in September 2022 to state and federal charges in a conspiracy to misspend tens of millions of dollars that were intended to help needy families in one of the poorest states in the U.S.

New said her court filing this week that she and Davis met with Favre and Vanlandingham at Favre’s south Mississippi home in January 2019. New said Vanlandingham knew that she, Davis and Bryant had funded the volleyball facility through the Department of Human Services and her nonprofit organization, and Vanlandingham requested $750,000 to complete drug trials and another $1 million for later use.

Favre had publicly said he supported the Prevacus effort to develop a concussion drug, and the state’s civil lawsuit says Favre invested more than $250,000 in the Florida-based company.

New said that during the meeting at Favre’s home, Davis committed $2 million to Prevacus, with the money moving from the Department of Human Services to Mississippi Community Education Center and then to Prevacus.

“After the meeting, I asked John why he had committed so much funding so quickly,” New said in the court filing. “John said he had spoken with Governor Bryant and the Governor wanted Prevacus funded. John said the Governor was ‘all about this happening.’”

The state’s civil lawsuit says New owned stock in Prevacus.

The state auditor said in 2020 that Favre received speaking fees from Mississippi Community Education Center. The money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was to go toward the volleyball arena at the university in Hattiesburg where his daughter started playing on the volleyball team in 2017.

Favre repaid $500,000 to the state in May 2020 and $600,000 in October 2021. In a Feb. 5 court filing, White said Favre still owes $729,790 because interest caused growth in the original amount he owed.

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