Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre smiles as he arrives for a halftime ceremony of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre is set to give sworn testimony in the ongoing welfare fraud civil suit at the end of this month.

But both Favre and the Mississippi Department of Human Services, which is suing the famous athlete and 46 others, have asked the judge to issue a protective order allowing parties to block evidence in the case, such as deposition transcripts, from being shared with the public.

If Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Faye Peterson signs the order — to which 16 other defendants objected — Favre’s deposition transcript would be considered confidential for at least 30 days after it is completed, after statewide elections in November. After that, Favre would be able to designate deposition exhibits or portions of transcripts confidential, preventing any other parties from sharing the materials with anyone outside of their counsel, the court or potential witnesses.

MDHS has accused Favre of pushing welfare officials to fund the construction of a volleyball stadium at University of Southern Mississippi and make a seven figure investment in a pharmaceutical company he was promoting — both of which MDHS says were shams that personally benefitted Favre and others. Favre denies he had anything to do with an illegal scheme.

Since MDHS first filed the case in May of 2022, Peterson has issued several procedural orders, most significantly denying Favre’s motion to dismiss the complaint against him and denying several motions to stay the case. She also denied a motion for protective order from the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation.

“The primary purposes of the Agreed Protective Order are to prevent confidential discovery materials from being made public and used outside of this litigation, and to give parties an opportunity to make an application that confidential materials be filed under seal,” reads the Sept. 22 motion for protective order by MDHS, Favre and another defendant in the case, virtual reality company Lobaki, Inc.

Both MDHS and Favre also plan to depose former University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett on Oct. 31 in Nebraska, where Bennett recently relocated to serve as chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln after resigning from USM in 2022.

MDHS has used a text message that Bennett sent former Gov. Phil Bryant in 2020 as the basis for its claim that Favre personally committed to provide funds to build the volleyball stadium, which bolsters the argument that Favre stood to personally benefit from the diversion of MDHS funds to the project.

“I will see, for the ‘umpteenth time’ if we can get him (Favre) to stand down,” Bennett wrote to Bryant in late January of 2020. “The bottom line is he personally guaranteed the project, and on his word and handshake we proceeded. It’s time for him to pay up – it really is just that simple.” 

Neither Bennett nor Bryant are defendants in the civil case.

Favre’s legal team denies that any of the welfare funds channeled to USM helped satisfy Favre’s pledge, especially considering that the funds were transferred in 2017, while Favre signed his guarantee in 2018.

Favre said that with respect to the proposal to use MDHS block grants to fund the volleyball stadium, “The Governor was aware of the source of the funding and supported it.”

At the time Bennett sent Bryant the text about Favre, Bryant had just left office and was discussing entering a business deal with Prevacus and PreSolMD, the Favre-backed pharmaceutical startups that also received more than $2 million in stolen welfare funds.

Bryant denied involvement in either deal.

MDHS sent an email to each defendant in the civil suit to gauge their support for a protective order. The following 16 defendants objected:

  • Nancy New, her private school company New Learning Resources Inc. and her nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center.
  • The nonprofit’s accounting firm Williams, Weiss, Hester & Co.
  • Nancy New’s sons Zach and Jess New, Jess New’s company Magnolia Strategies and the LLC they all started together, N3 Holdings.
  • Former state welfare director John Davis and his nephew Austin Smith.
  • Former welfare agency attorney William Garrig Shields.
  • Former welfare subcontractor NCC Ventures and its owner Nicholas Cronin Coughlin.
  • Former welfare subcontractor Chase Computer Services.
  • Retired football player Marcus Dupree and his organization Marcus Dupree Foundation.

These defendants said they were “hesitant to agree that materials, which [they] have never seen, can be made confidential simply with the markings of an attorney,” reads the Sept. 22 motion. The objecting defendants also argued that “‘records of public officials and former public officials’ may be marked as ‘confidential’; and that ‘some party will designate as ‘confidential’ matters which should not be confidential, and we will then have to go through an unknown length of time to obtain a court hearing in order to have the matters made public.’”

The remaining 29 defendants did not respond either way.

“As noted, discovery materials are not a matter of public record and to the extent that any designated discovery materials are to be filed with the Court, if any party or non-party requests they be sealed, the Court must ultimately decide if sealing is warranted,” the motion reads.

MDHS’s original counsel in the civil suit first scheduled depositions of 13 defendants in July of 2022, and they were set to take place between August and November of last year.

But days after filing the notice, Gov. Tate Reeves and the welfare department chose to fire the attorney, former U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott, which put a halt to securing the sworn statements.

Favre’s Oct. 26 deposition, set at the Hotel Indigo in Hattiesburg near Favre’s home, will be the first in the case unless one is scheduled before then.

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect the current number of defendants in the civil case. There are 47 current defendants. 

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Anna Wolfe is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who covers inequity and corruption in government safety net programs, nonprofit service providers and institutions affecting the marginalized. She began reporting for Mississippi Today in 2018, after she approached the editor with the idea of starting a poverty beat, the first of its kind in the state. Wolfe has received national recognition for her years-long coverage of Mississippi’s welfare program, in which she exposed new details about how officials funneled tens of millions of federal public assistance funds away from needy families and instead to their friends, families and the pet projects of famous athletes. Since joining Mississippi Today, she has received several national honors including the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, the Livingston Award, two Goldsmith Prizes for Investigative Reporting, the Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the Sacred Cat Award, the Nellie Bly Award, the John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, the Sidney Award, the National Press Foundation’s Poverty and Inequality Award and others. Previously, Wolfe worked for three years at Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide newspaper, where she covered city hall, health care, and wrote stories about hunger and medical billing, earning the Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism two years in a row. Born and raised on the Puget Sound in Washington State, Wolfe moved to Mississippi in 2012 to attend Mississippi State University, where she currently serves on the Digital Journalism Advisory Board. She has lived in Jackson, Mississippi since graduating in 2014.