In her first major order in the ongoing welfare fraud case, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Faye Peterson denied former NFL quarterback Brett Favre’s attempt to dismiss civil charges against him.
Peterson also blocked Favre’s request for a hearing on his motion, saying it was unnecessary and calling his legal arguments “unpersuasive and inapplicable.”
Mississippi Department of Human Services is currently targeting 47 defendants whom it says fraudulently transferred nearly $80 million in funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF.
Favre had argued that he never committed his own funds to build a volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi, a project eventually completed with $5 million in federal welfare funds, and that the state fully approved of the transfer.
“If, as MDHS falsely alleges, Favre was part of a conspiracy, it was the most public and open conspiracy in Mississippi history, it was directed and carried out by MDHS itself to transfer funds from one public state entity to another, Southern Miss, and it was vetted and approved by numerous lawyers and State officials,” his attorneys wrote in his motion to dismiss.
Peterson said in her motion Monday that Favre’s argument that MDHS “failed to allege that Favre formed an agreement with anyone to do anything unlawful” was “without merit,” effectively keeping Favre in the suit. Favre has not faced criminal charges in the U.S. Attorneys Office’s parallel criminal case, which just saw the addition of former WWE wrestler Teddy DiBiase Jr. last week.
“Obviously Brett Favre is disappointed in the court’s ruling. His legal team is exploring their options,” a spokesperson for Favre said in a statement Monday.
The judge also said that while Favre laid out a lengthy narrative with 300 pages of exhibits in his motion, under court procedure, she was not able to consider his version of facts.
The order Monday marks the first time Peterson, who wields great control over the trajectory of the civil suit, has directly acknowledged in a court filing the state’s allegations of civil conspiracy and fraudulent transfers against Favre.
“Both claims stem from allegations surrounding his involvement with and dealings to secure funding for the constriction of a brick-and-mortar volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi as well as allegations surrounding his efforts to secure funds for a for-profit drug company, Prevacus,” she wrote. “Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Favre personally guaranteed funds for the construction of a volleyball facility at USM, that he was unsuccessful at fundraising efforts, that he conducted months of negotiations and backdoor meetings with other named defendants and the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation to acquire funding, that the funding came from TANF funds and that said were used of non-TANF purposes, i.e. construction of a volleyball facility. Plaintiff further alleged that Favre, as the largest individual outside investor of Prevacus, engaged in similar meetings to assist in similar procurement of TANF funds that were, then, used to purchase stock in Prevacus, inconsistent with lawsuit TANF purposes.”
Peterson has filed 32 orders in the civil suit, which MDHS initially filed in May of last year. Until her order Monday denying Favre’s motion, Peterson had issued only procedural motions, such as granting time extensions for defendants file replies or allowing a defendant to use an out-of-state attorney.
The judge also has yet to hold a public hearing in the case.
Several other defendants have filed motions to dismiss, including Prevacus and its founder Jake Vanlandingham, nonprofit founder Nancy New, her sons Zach New and Jess New and their related companies, nonprofit director Christi Webb, former WWE wrestler Ted DiBiase Sr., former football player and fitness trainer Paul Lacoste, virtual reality company Lobaki, lobbyist and former state senator Will Longwitz, state contractor and former Attorney General’s Office employee Nick Coughlin and the former welfare director’s nephew Austin Smith. Peterson has not issued orders on their motions.