In 2020, the state auditor’s report said the university received $5 million for a bogus lease to use all its athletic facilities — including the volleyball center, which was not yet built — for programs for the poor.
The money, paid by the Mississippi Department of Human Services via the News’ nonprofit organization, actually went toward construction, the audit said. Last April, Mr. New pleaded guilty to transferring $4 million from TANF funds, which the federal government bars from using for “brick and mortar” projects, to the university.
The texts released last week seemed to indicate that the $1.1 million welfare contract to promote the center’s programs — work that was never performed — was another way to divert money to the stadium.
In the August 2017 text conversation about concealing the source of the money meant for the facility, Ms. New assured Mr. Favre that she understood he was “uneasy,” but that that kind of information was never publicized. The next day, she wrote: “Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!”
William M. Quin II, a lawyer for Mr. Bryant, said the text messages did not support the argument that the governor had encouraged and coached Mr. Favre and state officials on how to obtain the grant. “The allegation is patently false,” he said in an emailed statement, dismissing the text messages as “cherry-picked.” Mr. Bryant has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
The volleyball stadium was not actually part of the lawsuit. Last July, after J. Brad Pigott, a former U.S. attorney hired by the state to help recoup the lost millions, began subpoenaing information about what had happened at the university, he was dismissed. Mr. Favre has repaid the state $1.1 million — though the state auditor has said he still owes $228,000 in interest.