Given the large amount of evidence — detailed by prosecutors and an investigative reporter — against Nancy New and her son Zach New, the best they could probably hope for was to cut a deal in exchange for their cooperation with authorities.
That’s exactly what they did this past week — more than two years after their initial indictment for being major players in one of the worst cases of fraud and misspending of public funds in Mississippi history.
At most, Nancy New is facing a 10-year prison sentence and her son five years on bribery and fraud charges. Considering that they could have been looking at spending the rest of their lives behind bars, that is not a terrible outcome for them.
Still, it’s tragic how far Nancy New, a Greenwood native, has fallen. She was highly respected as an educator who created schools, including the former North New Summit School in her hometown, that helped children with special needs who didn’t fit into the traditional school setting.
But at some point, greed took over, and she discovered that a welfare program administered by the state was so lax on internal controls that it was ripe for the picking. She established a nonprofit that was supposed to help the poor develop skills that would allow them to emerge from poverty. Although it did some of that, it also became a conduit of money — millions of dollars — that she used to help her family and friends, help her schools and help herself. Some of it was downright theft, some of it was spending the money in ways for which it was clearly not intended, and then trying to cover it all up with fraudulent documentation.
She was assisted by her son in the wrongdoing, and he also joined her in a separate scheme that defrauded the Mississippi Department of Education out of millions of dollars of federal funding by filing fake reimbursement claims.
The question now is, Whom are prosecutors hoping to convict with the help of the News?
John Davis, the former welfare director who funneled most of the money toward Nancy New’s organization and allegedly asked her to spend some of it in illegal ways, is the top remaining figure still awaiting trial.
But Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe, who has written extensively about the welfare scandal and obtained a trove of incriminating text messages, reports charges could still be filed in the case.
Davis’ boss, former Gov. Phil Bryant, has not been charged with a crime. Nor has former NFL great Brett Favre. Eyebrows, though, have been raised about both of them in light of Wolfe’s reporting on suspicious text messages between Bryant, Favre and Jake Vanlandingham, Favre’s business partner in a speculative pharmaceutical company that allegedly received a couple million dollars of that misspent welfare money with Nancy New’s help.
Whether one is angry with Nancy New or sad for her, it didn’t have to come to this. She had a good reputation and was serving a fine education mission, but she lost her way. She grossly misused a program that was supposed to help the poorest of the poor. She swindled taxpayers and she cheated the impoverished. And for what? Fame and wealth that did not last.