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Ex-Gov. Phil Bryant Sues Over Sports Illustrated Story on Welfare Scandal, Alleging Defamation

Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is accusing Sports Illustrated’s former publisher and a former reporter of defaming him in a new lawsuit over a May 2023 report about Mississippi’s sprawling welfare scandal and his connection to retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre.

The federal lawsuit, which Bryant’s attorney filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on Thursday, specifically names Sports Illustrated’s former publisher, The Arena Group, and reporter Michael Rosenberg.

The complaint says that the story, written by Michael Rosenberg, “alleges a conspiracy involving former Governor Phil Bryant” and other players connected to the welfare scandal.

Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant filed this complaint on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on Thursday, May 9, 2024.

Between 2017 and 2019, former Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis—a Bryant appointee—directed tens of millions in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare dollars away from Mississippi’s poorest and toward illicit causes that often favored wealthy sports celebrities. He and Nancy New, a nonprofit director, are among several people who have pleaded guilty to state and federal charges over the scheme.

Favre was among the sports celebrities who benefited. He received $1.1 million in TANF funds for which he was supposed to record ads and give motivational speeches; $5 million in TANF funds went to build a volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi, his alma mater where his daughter was playing volleyball at the time; and $1.7 million in TANF funds went to Prevacus, a pharmaceutical company for concussion drugs that he was heavily invested in.

But Favre has long denied knowing the money came from welfare funds, and he has returned the $1.1 million he personally received to the state since 2020 (with some prodding from the state auditor), minus interest. Prosecutors have not charged Favre with a crime, though he is a defendant in the State’s civil case designed to claw back misspent funds.

‘Bryant Worked Relentlessly’

Bryant has similarly long denied any involvement in the welfare scandal beyond alerting the auditor to the theft; prosecutors have not charged him

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