A former director of Mississippi’s welfare agency is set to plead guilty Thursday to new federal charges in a conspiracy to misspend tens of millions of dollars intended to help needy families in one of the country’s poorest states — part of the state’s largest public corruption case in its history.
John Davis was set to appear in federal court to enter a plea of guilty to five counts of conspiracy and thirteen counts of fraud against the government.
Davis was charged with state crimes in February 2020. He was re-indicted this spring on state charges of misusing welfare funds, including sending a former pro wrestler to a luxury drug rehab facility.
According to a state court agreement filed Wednesday, the state charges are being dropped in exchange for Davis agreeing to plead guilty to federal charges and testify against others in the case.
The federal charges were filed on September 15 but were not made public until Wednesday. According to federal court records, Davis appeared before a magistrate judge on Wednesday and waived indictment, agreeing to be prosecuted under federal charges.
From February 2016 to July 2019, Davis served as the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. He was appointed to the position by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.
Davis allegedly conspired with four other people, who are not named in the federal charges. According to court documents, two of the alleged conspirators are executive directors of organizations, one is the owner of two businesses, and one is only a resident of Hinds County, Mississippi. Hinds County is home to Jackson, the state capital.
According to the conspiracy charges, one of the organizations paid nearly $498,000 to one of the businesses in June 2018. A few days later, that company signed a $1.1 million contract with the other company “ostensibly in exchange for developing an inner-city youth program.” According to the charges, the same organization paid $700,000 to the company with the youth program contract that summer.
Davis is accused of stealing more than $10,000 in federal grants.
Each conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while each theft charge carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In April, a mother and son who ran a nonprofit organization and an education company pleaded guilty to misusing welfare funds, including first-class airfare for Davis. Nancy and Zachary New agreed to testify in the case of others.
An attorney for one of the News’ organizations listed text messages between retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and Nancy New, Favre and Bryant, and Bryant and New in a state court filing on Sept. 12.
The messages depicted discussions about millions of dollars in welfare funds being directed to Favre’s favorite project, a volleyball facility being built at the University of Southern Mississippi. Favre, Bryant, and New were all students there, and Favre’s daughter began playing volleyball there in 2017. In the welfare fraud case, Favre and Bryant have not been charged.
Davis plans to plead guilty to five counts of conspiracy and thirteen counts of fraud in state court on Thursday after pleading guilty to federal charges, according to an order of dismissal filed Wednesday in the state case. According to the filing, Davis will serve his entire sentence in federal court, avoiding the notoriously harsh conditions of Mississippi’s state prisons, which is similar to the plea deal New received in April. New, her son Zach New, Brett DiBiase, and Ann McGrew, the accountant for Mississippi Community Education Center, all pleaded guilty but were not sentenced.