John Davis, ex-leader of the Mississippi welfare agency, pleads guilty and agrees to testify in favor of others

JACKSON, Miss. JACKSON, Miss. — A former director at Mississippi's welfare agency pleaded guilty to federal as well as state charges in a conspiracy misspend tens million dollars intended to help poor families in one the most impoverished states in America — part of the state's largest public corruption case.

John Davis pleaded guilty in federal court to one count each of conspiracy and theft from federal programs. A short time later, John Davis pleaded guilty to five charges of conspiracy and 13 counts each of fraud against government.

Davis, 54 was an influential figure in the scandal that resulted in criminal charges being brought against several people including Ted DiBiase (“million-dollar man”), a pro wrestler. Questions have also been raised about former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Phil Bryant. Favre, Bryant and others have not been charged with the welfare case.

Jody Owens, Hinds County District Attorney, responded to questions Thursday regarding whether Bryant and Favre could be charged.

Owens stated that Owens was looking into all people who have been identified in text messages and other means.

Davis, as the Mississippi Department of Human Services' leader, had direct control of federal funding that was channeled for pet projects like the construction of a volleyball arena at the university in which Favre's daughter plays the sport.

In February 2020, Davis was indicted for state charges. In February 2020, Davis was re-indicted on state charges. He was accused of participating in the misuse of welfare money. This set was dropped after Davis agreed to plead guilty to a shorter list. Prosecutors stated that Davis also consented to testify against other defendants in the case.

Adrienne Wooten from the state court asked Davis to justify why he let the department waste money on the needy.

“You were asked to help those we consider the least ,”' Wooten. “This court is very disappointed.

The charges against Ted DiBiase were mostly related to welfare money that was spent on his son, Brett DiBiase. He was also a professional wrestler. The expenses included $160,000 to pay for drug rehab in Malibu, California. He also received a $250,000 salary to do a job that he wasn't qualified for. $48,000 was spent to train Department of Human Services employees on how to spot drug use by those seeking assistance. $8,000 was used to book a luxurious hotel in New Orleans. More than $1,000 was spent for Davis' first-class airfare to Malibu to meet Brett DiBiase.

In April, a mother-son team that ran a nonprofit and an education company pleaded guilty state charges of misusing welfare money. This included lavish gifts such first-class tickets for Davis. Zachary New and Nancy New managed the nonprofit organization that paid Brett DiBiase $250,000 and funneled welfare money into his drug rehabilitation. They agreed to testify in favor of others.

An attorney representing one of the organizations managed by Nancy and Zachary New listed text messages between Nancy New and retired Favre, as well as between Favre (and Gov.) in a Sept. 12 state court filing. Bryant, and between Bryant & New.

There were discussions about millions of dollars of welfare money going to Favre's pet project — a new volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi. Favre, Bryant, and New all attended the university. Favre's daughter began playing volleyball at the university in 2017.

Davis replied to Wooten's question that Brett DiBiase was his best friend. Davis stated that he made “very, very poor judgments” when spending public money.

Davis stated, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

Davis was sentenced to a 90 year term by Wooten, with 58 suspended sentences and 32 to be served. Davis was placed on house arrest until his federal sentencing scheduled for February 2. Federal charges could land him in prison for up to 15 years.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves stated that he hopes Davis will make better decisions in the future.

Although the federal charges were formally filed on Sept. 15, they were sealed until Wednesday. Davis waived the indictment, and pleaded guilty.

From February 2016 to July 2019, Davis was the executive director of Mississippi Department of Human Services. Bryant, a Republican, appointed him.

Federal charges state that Davis conspired to be with four other individuals, who aren't named. Two of the alleged conspirators are described in court documents as executive directors of organizations. One is the owner of two businesses and the other is a Mississippi resident. Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, is located in Hinds County.

According to the conspiracy charges, one company paid almost $498,000 in June 2018 to one of these companies. One company was accused of conspiring to pay nearly $498,000. The other company signed a $1.1million contract with that company, “purportedly in return for creating a program for inner-city youth.” According to the charges, the same company paid $700,000.00 that summer for the youth program contract.

Davis is accused of stealing federal grants worth more than $10,000.

This report was contributed by The Associated Press.

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