The massive, multi-million-dollar welfare scam in Mississippi is an onion with many lawyers and levels. Some have been explored. Some haven’t been. Now, some may be stopping others from the effort to keep peeling.
As reported by Mississippi Today, the state’s welfare department has fired attorney Brad Pigott, who was hired to get to the bottom of the scandal. The firing happened roughly a week after he sent a subpoena to the University of Southern Mississippi aimed at exploring why and how the school received $5 million in welfare funds to build a volleyball stadium.
“All I did, and I believe all that caused me to be terminated from representing the department or having anything to do with the litigation, was to try to get the truth about all of that,” Pigott told Mississippi Today on Friday. “People are going to go to jail over this, at least the state should be willing to find out the truth of what happened.”
Pigott, in seeking more information about the $5 million payment to USM, was exploring the involvement of former NFL quarterback Brett Favre and former Mississippi governor Phil Bryant, among others. Favre played college football at USM an his daughter played volleyball at the school in 2017 and 2018.
The New York Times pushes the ball a little farther, after separately speaking to Pigott. The lawyer told the Times that Favre had promised to give $5 million to the construction of the volleyball stadium. Pigott claims that Favre, instead of writing the check, asked the Mississippi Community Education Center to fund the project. And the Mississippi Community Education Center was at the heart of the distribution of federal welfare money in a way that has created a major controversy in one of the nation’s poorest states.
Pigott told the Times that the center paid the $5 million, and then “disguised it as a payment for use of university facilities that did not occur.”
“I’m a born and raised Mississippian, and this particular kind of fraud was just an especially offensive failure to use money to serve what [federal] law calls ‘needy families,’ of which we have an excess supply in Mississippi, and do have great, great needs,” Pigott told the Times. “I found it especially offensive that they so cavalierly spent so many millions of dollars intended to remove poverty in this state, and instead spend it on each other and celebrity figures and corporations and their favorite institutions.”
A spokesperson for current Mississippi governor Tate Reeves told the Times as to the firing of Pigott that there are “many capable lawyers who can handle the work necessary to recover stolen [federal] funds” and that “it was decided that a semiretired solo practitioner was not the right person to sign on for more work.”
Pigott seems to believe he wasn’t the right person because he wasn’t the “right” person. The former U.S. Attorney who was appointed by Bill Clinton apparently thinks the firing happened because the work was coming too close to possibly exposing new depths of Favre’s and Bryant’s involvement, and because certain political forces intervened.
“I am sure they can find a loyal Republican lawyer to do the work,” Pigott told Mississippi Today.
Favre was first connected to the scandal via reporting that he received $1.1 million in welfare funds for no-show public appearances and other work. He denied getting paid not to perform services, but he nevertheless paid back the money. Mississippi has since sued him for unpaid interest on the funds.