The NAACP has called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate years of allegations of widespread welfare fraud and wasteful spending in Mississippi totaling more than $94 million, according to a letter obtained exclusively by ABC News.
NAACP Chairman Derrick Johnson called on the Justice Department “to aggressively investigate and prosecute those responsible for the massive theft of federal funds that apparently took place in Mississippi during fiscal years 2017 through 2019.” He noted that “funds from these programs should be used for the most needy and vulnerable in our society.”
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White alleged that money set aside by the federal government for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and child care and development fund (CCDF) had been embezzled under the leadership of John Davis. , then head of the Mississippi Department of Social Services, according to the letter.
The fraud allegations first came to light in 2020 by state prosecutors in one of the largest cases involving allegations of embezzlement in state history. Six people have been charged with state charges, including Davis.
Davis pleaded not guilty, according to court records. His trial, which was due to start last year, has been repeatedly delayed. A lawyer for Davis did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Others charged include Nancy New, the former owner of the Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC); his son, Zach New, Deputy CEO of MCEC; and former Department of Social Services employee Gregory “Latimer” Smith.
Lawyers for Nancy and Zach New did not respond to an ABC News request for comment. Smith’s contact information was not immediately available.
McGrew, Smith, Nancy New and Zach New have all pleaded not guilty, according to The Associated Press.
Nancy New told the Clarion-Ledger in 2020, “I just have to say I think there’s a lot more information to come and we’re just waiting our turn.”
Several people in the case have accepted plea deals, including former professional wrestler Brett DiBiase, who pleaded guilty in 2020 to a single count of making fraudulent statements for the purpose of defrauding the government.
Anne McGrew, an accountant for MCEC, pleaded guilty in October 2021 to a charge of conspiracy to commit embezzlement.
One of the recipients of nearly $1.1 million in welfare funds was former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who lives in Mississippi. Favre allegedly received the funds for speeches he did not deliver, the AP reported. Favre has not been charged and has since begun to repay the funds, according to the AP.
Representatives for Favre did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen has released a 175-page independent audit examining claims of fraud between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2019.
White told a press conference in 2020 that the case was the “most egregious expense my staff has seen in their careers at the Office of the State Auditor.” He later added, “When you read this hundred-plus-page audit, you’ll see that, if there was a way to waste money, it appears that DHS officials or their beneficiaries thought about it and tried it.”
White said in 2020 after the indictments: “This is an example of money going or should have gone to people who needed it through a federal program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ( TANF) To these families, I say, I’m incredibly sorry that this money hasn’t benefited you the way it should have But you need to know that you have advocates standing up for you, and that won’t be allowed and it stops right now.
The questionable funds included $5 million for a lease for a multipurpose wellness center that would later become a volleyball stadium, $635,000 for a virtual reality lab that included people who weren’t identified as needy and $44,000 to retired professional soccer players for soccer. camps that focused on student-athletes and did not aim to help at-risk youth.
According to the audit, most of the embezzled funds were stolen from a now disbanded poverty alleviation program called Families First for Mississippi, co-operated by the Mississippi Community Education Center. MCEC did not respond to an ABC News request for comment.
Johnson of the NAACP said in his letter, “These apparent crimes were ignored by the DOJ under your predecessor the Attorney General, and we call on you to take action that is long overdue.”
Johnson said the Mississippi State Auditor’s findings were forwarded to the Justice Department, “however, nearly two years later, despite the overwhelming documentary evidence of fraud, tampering and abuse in this matter, the DOJ has not yet launched a criminal investigation.”
He said in the two-page letter to Garland that “the lack of an investigation may give the impression that the DOJ is continuing the previous administration’s tendency to look the other way when laws are broken by representatives of the white state, especially when wrongdoing disproportionately harms minorities.”
Johnson urged “in the strongest terms possible to take immediate action to investigate and prosecute those involved in this massive theft of federal funds.”
“The department has received the letter and will review it,” a Justice Department spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.