Explosive new evidence in the $77 million welfare fraud scandal in Mississippi reveals text exchanges between ex-Governor Phil Bryant and former star NFL quarterback Brett Favre regarding the athlete’s dogged, and potentially illegal, efforts to fund the construction of a volleyball stadium at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), where Favre’s daughter played on the team. Amid the surprising revelations in new court filings was a text from Bryant stating that HGTV‘s Ben Napier had helped with construction efforts, sparking questions and concerns about the extent of his involvement. Here’s the latest…
Texts Between NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre & Former Mississippi Governor Revealed in New Court Filing
In May 2022, 38 individuals and organizations including Favre were sued by the Mississippi Department of Human Services for allegedly spending approximately $77 million meant for state welfare programs to fund their own personal projects. Favre is accused, according to the New York Times, of allegedly using millions to invest in a biotech startup and to help fund the volleyball stadium at USM. These allegations come after the NFL Hall of Famer already had to pay back over $1 million in “speaking fees” he received from the state for motivational speeches he never actually delivered.
On September 13, 2022, Mississippi Today published a bombshell report with never-before-seen text messages beginning in 2017, revealing then-Governor Bryant was helping Favre access funds for the future stadium, including guiding him on wording to use in his proposal so that it could be accepted by the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Investigative reporter Anna Wolfe wrote that the texts show they were coordinating with nonprofit leader Nancy New, who has since pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts of fraud, dispensing tens of millions of flexible federal welfare dollars to unrelated projects.
New’s son, Zach New, also admitted in an April plea agreement to defrauding the government when he helped devise a plan to “disguise the USM construction project as a ‘lease'” to get around strict rules against using welfare funds for “brick and mortar construction projects.”
Favre’s lawyer claims the football star knew nothing about the illegal funds. In 2020, when Mississippi Today asked Favre if he’d ever discussed the volleyball stadium with Bryant, he simply said “no.” The plethora of released texts between the two now prove otherwise.
Erin Napier Scolds Investigative Reporter in Since-Deleted Tweet
So where or how does HGTV’s Ben Napier fit into this mess? His wife and “Home Town” co-host Erin Napier says he doesn’t, though she has since deleted her response and it’s unclear why.
On September 24, Bryant publicly shared dozens of texts between himself and Favre, trying to prove that he didn’t know the football star was using welfare money for the USM volleyball stadium. Mississippi Today’s Wolfe reported that the provided texts from 2017 were only portions of their exchanges. Her reporting included the following excerpt:
Later, in May of 2018, Favre reached out again to Gov. Bryant for help constructing lockers for the facility.
“I’m still trying to save money on [the] Vball facility,” Favre texted.
Favre even suggested “the prison industry possibly as a builder.”
HGTV star and woodworker Ben Napier assisted with constructing the lockers on Bryant’s request, according to the filing.
After Wolfe tweeted that last sentence as part of a thread regarding the breaking story, Erin replied in a since-deleted tweet.
She wrote, “Ben didn’t build lockers for anyone. The governor texted asking him if he could recommend someone to build wooden lockers, and Ben offered a recommendation for a cabinet maker we work with. You should get total clarity on a fact like this before you tweet it.”
Wolfe replied, “Thank you for responding! The public court file, attributed, and tweet say ‘assisted with’ locker construction, which sounds consistent with your account. I will further clarify now.”
On September 25, Wolfe issued a clarification on Twitter, writing: “The public court filing says Ben Napier ‘assisted with locker construction … at Gov. Bryant’s request’ which, of course, there’s nothing wrong with. In a now-deleted Tweet, his wife Erin Napier says Ben simply gave the gov a recommendation for a cabinet maker.” She screenshot the exchange between her and Napier and included it in her clarification tweet.
The tweets about Ben’s connection to building lockers at the stadium have received many comments from concerned fans, including one in response to Erin’s tweet, which said, “Lawyer here. If I was Ben Napier and his wife, I would shut up and speak to a suit.”
Further Details About Bryant’s Request to Ben Napier Revealed
In Wolfe’s clarification tweet about the Napiers, she also attached a portion of the 70-page court document filed days before, which explicitly says, “Ben Napier assisted with locker construction for the USM Volleyball Center at Governor Bryan’s request.”
The document goes on to reveal that in 2019, Bryant tweeted support for the Napiers’ HGTV show and proceeded to ask Favre to retweet it.
It reads, “On January 12, 2019, Governor Bryant made the following post on Twitter: ‘Don’t forget the Season 3 premiere of Home Town, with Mississippians Ben and Erin Napier, comes on Monday night at 8:00pm. We are proud of them for showcasing our great state on a nation(al) scale.’ Bryant sent a link to his tweet to Favre and asked, ‘Please retweet. Ben helped us with the lockers for the Volleyball Complex. He and Erin’s show in Laurel is doing great. Thanks brother.’ Favre responded, ‘You bet.'”
On September 27, Wolfe tweeted new screenshots of the specific text exchange between Favre and Bryant from May 2018.
“Governor, this Brett,” Favre wrote. “I’m still trying to save money on Vball facility. We have visitor and Home lockers yet to build and Warren Hood is donating any lumber. If someone would build them on there spare time. Poncho mentioned the prison industry possibly as a builder. The architects can provide all specs.”
Bryant replied that he was turkey hunting in Nebraska, but said, “Let me get on it.”
Five days later, Bryant tweeted that he and his wife were in Laurel to present the Napiers with a resolution commending their success and shared photos from their meet-up. It’s not known whether the governor approached Ben about the lockers during that meeting.
Bryant had supported the Napiers’ show before. He and his wife attended the premiere of the pilot in January 2016, according to the Laurel Leader Call, before they knew whether HGTV would pick up the show.