The NAACP called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate years-long allegations of widespread welfare fraud and misspending in Mississippi totaling over $94 million, according to a letter obtained exclusively by ABC News.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson called on the Justice Department to “aggressively investigate and prosecute those responsible for the massive theft of federal funds that appears to have occurred in Mississippi during fiscal years 2017-2019.” He noted that “funds from these programs are intended to be used to help those most in need and most vulnerable in our society.”
Mississippi State Examiner Shad White claimed that funds earmarked by the federal government for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF ) were repurposed under the direction of John Davis, then chief of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, according to the letter.
The fraud allegations were first uncovered by prosecutors in 2020 in one of the largest embezzlement claims cases in the state’s history. Six people have been charged on state charges, including Davis.
Davis has pleaded not guilty, court records show. His trial, which was supposed to start last year, has been postponed several times. An attorney for Davis did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
The other defendants include Nancy New, the former owner of the Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC); her son Zach New, the MCEC’s deputy executive director; and former Department of Human Services employee Gregory “Latimer” Smith.
Attorneys for Nancy and Zach New did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News. Contact information for Smith 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 pleas, including former professional wrestler Brett DiBiase, who in 2020 pleaded guilty to a single count of fraudulent testimony for the purpose of defrauding the government.
Anne McGrew, an MCEC accountant, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to embezzle in October 2021.
One of the recipients of nearly $1.1 million in welfare payments was former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who resides in Mississippi. Favre allegedly received the funds for speeches he did not give, the AP reported. Favre has not been charged and has since started paying back the funds, according to the AP.
Favre representatives did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen released a 175-page independent review addressing allegations of fraud between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2019.
White said in a 2020 news conference the case was the “most egregious misstatement my staff have seen in their careers with the Office of the State Auditor.” He later added, “If you read this review of over a hundred pages, you will see that if there was an opportunity to spend money wrongly, the DHS leadership or their grantees thought of it and tried it.”
White said in 2020 after the charges, “This is an example of money going, or should have gone, to people who needed it through a federal program, Temporary Assistance to Families in Need (TANF). To those families I say, I am incredibly sorry that this money did not go to your benefit in the way it should have. But you have to know that you have lawyers standing up for you and that will not be allowed and it stops now.”
Funds in question included $5 million for a lease on a multi-purpose wellness center that would later become a volleyball stadium, $635,000 for a virtual reality lab that included people not identified as in need, and $44,000 for retired professional soccer camps that focused on student athletes and were not aimed at helping at-risk youth.
According to the audit, most of the embezzled funds were stolen by a now-defunct anti-poverty program called Families First for Mississippi, which is partnered by the Mississippi Community Education Center. The MCEC did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
Johnson of the NAACP said in his letter, “These apparent crimes were ignored by the DOJ under your predecessor Attorney General, and we urge you to take action that is long overdue.”
Johnson said the Mississippi State Examiner’s findings had been referred to the Justice Department, “however, nearly two years later, despite overwhelming documentary evidence of fraud, forgery and abuse in this matter, the DOJ has yet to initiate a criminal investigation.”
He said in the two-page letter to Garland that “failure to investigate could create the impression that the DOJ is continuing the previous administration’s pattern of looking the other way when laws are being broken by white state officials, particularly when the misconduct disproportionately harms minorities.” “
Johnson “urged in the strongest terms that immediate action be taken to investigate and prosecute those involved in this massive theft of federal funds.”
“The Department has received the letter and will be reviewing it,” a Justice Department spokesman told ABC News in a statement.
https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/naacp-calls-justice-department-investigate-90-million-mississippi/story?id=84039309 The NAACP is asking the Justice Department to investigate the Mississippi welfare fraud case