Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves needed to explain why he “called the dogs off” the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation for being one of the top beneficiaries in the state’s massive welfare scandal.
The explanation Reeves has provided, however, is not very persuasive. It is full of holes and thus further suggests that his actions in the matter have been designed to protect supporters connected with the university and its athletic foundation.
Reeves has acknowledged taking the USM Foundation off the initial list of defendants in a civil lawsuit designed to claw back a chunk of the $77 million that the state auditor’s office has said was either misspent or stolen. He then had the attorney handling that lawsuit, Brad Pigott, fired when Pigott tried to subpoena the communications of USM Foundation board members and others regarding the $5 million in welfare money that went toward building a women’s volleyball facility.
Reeves said his office, in overruling the wishes of Pigott and the Department of Human Services, used an “objective process” in determining who would get sued. The named defendants, according to the governor, had to have been identified as receiving payments that were labeled as “waste, fraud and abuse” by a third-party forensic accounting firm hired by DHS or were the subject of criminal charges.
Admittedly, the USM Foundation did not meet the first criteria. It should be emphasized, however, that the forensic auditing firm was limited in what it could review because it didn’t have access to all the records, including those involving the funneling of welfare money by Nancy New’s nonprofit, the Mississippi Community Education Center, to the volleyball project.
The $5 million expenditure, though, has been part of the criminal probe that snagged New and her son Zach New. He pleaded guilty to fraud in trying to disguise the contribution, which would have been prohibited under federal guidelines, as a lease payment.
There was at least one other inconsistency in Reeves’ explanation. The DHS lawsuit included defendants who were not part of the forensic audit’s limited findings and who have not been charged with a crime. One of those is Brett Favre, the former NFL quarterback who has several entanglements in the welfare scandal.
Reeves has been trying to refute the accusation that he engaged in a coverup to protect those who have supported his political campaigns in the past and whom he may be counting on to help him win reelection next year. His explanation so far has only given more credence to the claim.