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Millions in Mississippi welfare funds misused on vehicles, concert tickets, Brett Favre: state audit

An audit released Monday by Mississippi's state auditor found that officials had misused millions of federal dollars intended for the state's neediest families.

The report, from Mississippi's Office of the State Auditor, found that $94 million in total could either not be accounted for or had been spent on questionable purposes, more than 90 percent of what the state has received over the last three years.

The report is part of the largest investigation into misuse of welfare funds in state history and has already resulted in the arrest of the Mississippi Department of Human Services' former head, John Davis, in February.

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The money came as part of the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provided state officials $98 million over the last three years to be distributed at officials' discretion to state programs and nonprofit groups supposed to help Mississippi's poor. Nearly all of that money was misused, according to the audit.

“This completed audit of DHS for the previous year shows the most egregious misspending my staff have seen in their careers at the Office of the State Auditor,” said state auditor Shad White.

“When you read this one-hundred-plus page audit, you will see that, if there was a way to misspend money, it seems DHS leadership or their grantees thought of it and tried it," White added.

Among the expenditures was $1.1 million sent to a nonprofit connected to retired NFL star Brett Favre for a speaking arrangement; Favre reportedly never attended, according to The New York Times. Other recipients of the money used it for a wide range of unapproved activities, such as concert tickets and new vehicles. 

One of the prime beneficiaries of the misused money, according to the audit, was Nancy New, the founder of a chain of private schools who used the funds to pay a speeding ticket and received as much as $6 million from the program, which her family used for a wide range of purposes including the purchase of three trucks.

TANF money was also reportedly used to advertise during an NCAA game and to purchase tickets to a college football match.

“DHS staff should immediately move to seize any property that was purchased by grantees with taxpayer money, as that property belongs to the taxpayers,” added White. “That property does not belong to the Auditor’s office, so we cannot do this for them, but it should be marked as DHS property, and DHS should use their legal authority and move quickly to seize it."