John Davis, former Mississippi welfare chief, pleads guilty, agrees to testify against others

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Jackson, Miss. — The former director of Mississippi’s welfare agency pleaded guilty Thursday to federal and state charges in a conspiracy to misappropriate tens of millions of dollars to help poor families in one of the poorest states in America. A case of public corruption in the history of the state.

In federal court, John Davis pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of theft from programs receiving federal funds. A short time later, in state court, he pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy and 13 counts of fraud against the government.

Davis, 54, was an influential figure in a scandal that spawned criminal charges against several people, including pro wrestler Ted DiBiase, the so-called “Million Dollar Man.” Governor Bill Bryant. Favre and Bryant have not been charged in the welfare malpractice case.

Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens on Thursday responded to questions about whether Bryant or Favre could face charges.

Owens said “we’re looking at all the people who have been identified” through text messages or other means.

As head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, Davis had direct control of federal funds that were funneled to pet projects like a new volleyball stadium at the university where Favre’s daughter played the sport.

Davis was indicted in February 2020. He was indicted again this spring on state charges that he misused welfare money; That set of charges was dropped in exchange for Davis agreeing to plead guilty to a new, shorter list. Prosecutors said Davis agreed to testify against others in the case.

In state court Thursday, Judge Adrian Wootton asked Davis to explain why he allowed the department to waste money on people in need.

“You were entrusted to do good by people we consider ‘the least of them,'” Wooten said. “This court is very disappointing.

The state court charges were largely tied to welfare money spent on one of Ted DiBiase’s sons, Bret DiBiase, who was also a pro wrestler. $160,000 spent on drug rehab in Malibu, California; $250,000 in salary for a job he was not qualified to do; $48,000 to train Department of Human Services employees how to identify potential drug use by individuals seeking the agency’s assistance; $8,000 for his stay at an upscale hotel in New Orleans; And more than $1,000 in first-class airfare for Davis to Malibu to see Brett DiBiase.

In April, a mother and son who ran a nonprofit and an educational institution pleaded guilty to misusing welfare money, including lavish gifts such as first-class airfare for Davis. Nancy New and Zachary New run a nonprofit organization that paid $250,000 to Brett DiBiase to raise welfare money for his drug rehabilitation. They agreed to testify against the others.

Filed in state court on Sept. 12, an attorney for one of the companies run by Nancy and Zachary New listed text messages between retired Favre and Nancy New, between Favre and Gov. Between Bryant and Bryant and New.

News reports showed discussions of millions of dollars in welfare money going to Favre’s pet project, 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 in 2017.

In response to one of Wooten’s many questions, Davis said Bret DiBiase was his friend. Davies also said he used “very, very poor judgement” in spending public money.

“I shouldn’t have done it,” Davis said.

Wootton sentenced Davis to 90 years in prison, with 58 of them suspended and 32 to be served. He placed Davis under house arrest pending his federal sentencing. 2. He faces up to 15 years on federal charges.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said he hoped Davis would make better decisions in the future.

Federal charges filed Sept. 15, but was sealed till Wednesday. Davis pleaded guilty to the charges being dismissed.

Davis was the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services from February 2016 to July 2019. Appointed by Bryant, a Republican.

Federal charges allege Davis conspired with four other unnamed men. Court documents describe two of the conspirators as managing directors of the companies, one as the owner of two companies, and one as a resident of Hinds County, Mississippi. Jackson is the capital of Hinds County.

The conspiracy charges allege that a company paid one of the companies nearly $498,000 in June 2018. A few days later, the company signed a $1.1 million contract with the other company “in exchange for developing a program to serve inner-city youth.” The allegations also state that the same company provided the company with a $700,000 youth program contract that summer.

The theft charges allege that Davis misused more than $10,000 in federal grants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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