JACKSON, Miss. — A previous director of Mississippi’s well-being firm pleaded guilty Thursday to federal and state charges in a conspiracy to waste 10s of countless dollars that were meant to assist clingy households in among the poorest states in the United States — part of the biggest public corruption case in the state’s history.
In federal court, John Davis pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of theft from programs getting federal funds. In state court a brief time later on, he pleaded guilty to 5 counts of conspiracy and 13 counts of scams versus the federal government.
Davis, 54, was a prominent figure in a scandal that has actually produced criminal charges versus numerous individuals, consisting of professional wrestler Ted DiBiase, referred to as the “million dollar man,’ whose Christian ministry was ordered to repay more than $720,000 in misspent welfare money. The scandal also has raised questions about retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. Favre and Bryant have not been charged in the welfare misspending case.
Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens responded to questions Thursday about whether charges could be brought against Bryant or Favre.
“We are taking a look at all people that have actually been recognized” in text messages or in other ways, Owens said.
As leader of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, Davis had direct control of federal funds that were channeled to pet projects such as a new volleyball arena at the university where Favre’s daughter played the sport.
Davis was indicted on state charges in February 2020. He was re-indicted this spring on state charges that he participated in misusing welfare money; that set of charges was dropped in exchange for Davis agreeing to plead guilty to the new, shorter list. Prosecutors said Davis also agreed to testify against others in the case.
In state court Thursday, Judge Adrienne Wooten asked Davis to explain why he had allowed the department to squander money for the needy.
“You were delegated to do excellent by those that we think about ‘the least of those,”’ Wooten stated. “This court is very disappointed.”
The state court charges were mostly tied to welfare money spent on one of Ted DiBiase’s sons, Brett DiBiase, who was also a pro wrestler. The spending included $160,000 for drug rehabilitation in Malibu, California; a $250,000 salary for a job he was not qualified to do; $48,000 for him to teach Department of Human Services employees how to identify possible drug use by people seeking help from the agency; $8,000 for him to stay at an upscale hotel in New Orleans; and more than $1,000 for first-class airfare for Davis to fly to Malibu to see Brett DiBiase.
In April, a mother and son who ran a nonprofit organization and an education company pleaded guilty to state charges of misusing welfare money, including on lavish gifts such as the first-class airfare for Davis. Nancy New and Zachary New ran the nonprofit organization that paid the $250,000 to Brett DiBiase and that funneled welfare money for his drug rehab. They agreed to testify against others.
In a state court filing Sept. 12, an attorney for one of the organizations run by Nancy and Zachary New listed text messages between retired Favre and Nancy New, between Favre and Gov. Bryant and between Bryant and New.
The messages showed discussions about millions of dollars in welfare money being directed to a pet project of Favre — a volleyball facility being built at the University of Southern Mississippi. Favre, Bryant and New all attended the university, and Favre’s daughter started playing volleyball there in 2017.
In response to one of many questions from Wooten, Davis said Brett DiBiase was his friend. Davis also said he used “extremely, extremely bad judgment” in spending public money.
“I should not have actually done it,” Davis stated.
Wooten offered Davis a 90-year sentence with 58 of those suspended and 32 to serve. She put Davis on home arrest up until his federal sentencing, set for Feb. 2. He confronts 15 years on the federal charges.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves stated he hopes Davis makes much better choices from now on.
The federal charges were bied far Sept. 15, however stayed sealed up until Wednesday. Davis waived indictment and consented to plead guilty.
Davis was executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services from February 2016 through July 2019. He was designated by Bryant, a Republican.
The federal charges state Davis conspired with 4 other individuals, who are not called. Court files explain 2 of the supposed conspirators as executive directors of companies, one as the owner of 2 business and one just as a citizen of Hinds County, Mississippi. The capital city of Jackson remains in Hinds County.
The conspiracy charges state one company paid almost $498,000 to among the business in June 2018. A couple of days later on, that business went into a $1.1 million agreement with the other business “supposedly in exchange for developing a program to serve urban youth.” The charges likewise state the very same company paid $700,000 that summer season to the business with the youth program agreement.
The theft charges state Davis misused federal grants of more than $10,000.
The Associated Press added to this report.