News Tech: In the largest public corruption case in Mississippi history, a former director of the state’s welfare agency pleaded guilty on Thursday to new federal charges in a conspiracy to misuse tens of millions of dollars that were meant to aid vulnerable families in one of the nation’s poorest states.
Each time Davis answered, “Yes, sir.”
On one count of conspiracy and one count of fraud against the government, John Davis appeared in federal court and entered a guilty plea. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves probed Davis about his understanding of the allegations to which he was pleading guilty during the hearing.
Sentence was set for February 2 by Reeves. Davis is still free on bond, and the court expressed his hope that Davis will make wiser decisions going forward.
Federal accusations were announced on September 15 but were not made public until Wednesday. According to federal court records, Davis appeared before a magistrate judge on Wednesday. Davis waived indictment and consented to being charged under federal laws, according to the papers.
From February 2016 to July 2019, Davis served as the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ executive director. He was chosen for the position by Republican then-Gov. Phil Bryant. According to the federal allegations, Davis plotted with four unnamed individuals. Two of the alleged conspirators are listed in court filings as executive directors of various organisations, one is listed as the owner of two businesses, and one is just listed as a resident of Hinds County, Mississippi. In Hinds County is where Jackson’s capitol is located.
According to the conspiracy allegations, one of the groups gave a business close to $498,000 in June 2018. A few days later, that business signed a contract worth $1.1 million with the rival business “purportedly in exchange for developing a programme to benefit inner-city youngsters.” The allegations also claim that the same organisation gave the business with the youth programme contract $700,000 that summer. Davis is accused of stealing over $10,000 in federal funding, according to the accusations.
Theft charges carry a maximum 10-year jail sentence and a $250,000 fine, while conspiracy charges carry a maximum five-year prison sentence. A mother and her son, who ran a nonprofit and an educational firm, pleaded guilty in April to state charges of misusing welfare funds, including for lavish gifts like first-class travel for Davis. Zachary New and Nancy New consented to give evidence against others.
The communications revealed discussions about millions of dollars in welfare funds going to Favre’s pet project at the University of Southern Mississippi: a volleyball facility. The university was attended by Favre, Bryant, and New, and in 2017 Favre’s daughter began participating in volleyball there. Favre and Bryant have not been charged in the welfare misspending case. In a state court filing Sept. 12, an attorney for one of the News’ organisations listed text messages between retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and Nancy New, between Favre and Bryant and between Bryant and New.