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Social scandal exacerbates contrasts in long-poverty Mississippi

Social scandal exacerbates contrasts in long-poverty Mississippi

Emily Wagster Pettus

January 3, 2023

FILE - John Davis, former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, consults with attorneys Merida Coxwell (right) and Charles Mullins (left) in Jackson, Mississippi, Sept. 22, 2022. Davis has been accused of conspiring to accidentally invest tens of millions of dollars in helping poor families in one of the poorest states in the United States, as part of the largest public corruption scandal in Mississippi history. He pleaded guilty to state and federal guilt. (AP

FILE - Former Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis meets with defense attorneys Merida Coxwell (right) and Charles Mullins (left) on Sept. 20 in Jackson, Mississippi. I'm here. February 22, 2022. Davis, in the largest public corruption case in Mississippi history, has been charged with state and federal lawsuits in a conspiracy to misinvest tens of millions of dollars aimed at helping needy families in one of the poorest states in the United States. Pled guilty to government indictment.

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) -- A social scandal has cost millions of dollars in Mississippi, a state with a long tradition of elected officials praising self-sufficiency and denouncing the government's poverty reduction programs. It became clear that it was being misappropriated by the rich and powerful.

I became a professional athlete. Instead of helping some of the country's most needy people. Nsombi Lambright-Haynes, chief executive of One Voice, a nonprofit that helps vulnerable communities in Mississippi, is outraged by the misuse of welfare funds.

"It's a disgrace and a terrible thing, especially in a state where we hear year after year the argument that poor people don't need resources, that poor people are lazy and just need to work."

Although the state has been one of the poorest states in the United States for decades, only a fraction of the federal welfare funds are used directly to support families. Instead, the Mississippi Department of Social Services allowed well-connected people to squander tens of millions of social dollars from 2016 to 2019.

Former human resources chief John Davis pleaded guilty to charges of abusive welfare spending in his one of the state's largest public employee corruption cases.


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The scandal has ensnared high-profile figures, including retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who is one of more than three dozen defendants in a civil lawsuit that the current Human Services director filed to try to recover some of the welfare money wasted while Davis was in charge.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money helped fund pet projects of the wealthy, including $5 million for a volleyball arena that Favre supported at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi Auditor Shad White said. Favre's daughter played volleyball at the school starting in 2017.

Another $2.1 million of TANF money went toward an attempt to develop a concussion drug by a company in which Favre was an investor, White said. Favre has asked a judge to dismiss him from the lawsuit, with his attorney arguing that the Department of Human Services — not Favre — is responsible for “grossly improper and unlawful handling of welfare funds.” Favre is not facing criminal charges. screen

Some of the money, intended to help low-income families, went toward luxury travel for Davis and those close to him, drug rehab for a former professional wrestler, and boot camp-style gym classes.

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