Nearly four years ago, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White stood next to Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens to announce the first arrests in what became known as the Mississippi welfare scandal.
Several other charges — even a handful from the Justice Department — followed, but there’s been one agency that has remained almost entirely hands-off: the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office led by Lynn Fitch.
Fitch, whose spokesperson did not respond to Front Office Sports for this story, tapped outside law firms to handle the lawsuit that seeks to recover more than $77 million from 47 defendants, including Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Her office also hasn’t criminally charged anyone connected to the misuse of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.
“We turned over our entire evidence file to the Attorney General long ago because their prosecutors have jurisdiction,” White told FOS. “We did the same for the federal prosecutors. The AG’s office has not expressed interest to me in pursuing the case so far.”
Fitch won re-election earlier this month after she refused to debate her Democratic opponent Greta Kemp Martin. Fitch rarely grants interviews, and the ones she does are often focused on one of two topics: abortion and sex trafficking.
“There’s no need to be accountable to anyone when you are part of the ruling party in the way that the Republicans are ruling party in Mississippi,” Ole Miss sociology professor James M. Thomas said. “You don’t necessarily have to campaign. You don’t necessarily have to debate. She never responds to criticism. You can kind of get away with anything you want to do.”
Her lack of involvement in the TANF scandal has rankled many fellow Republicans beyond White, who are frustrated that Fitch is basically absent regarding the largest public corruption scandal, two sources with knowledge of the situation told FOS.
Fitch also never explained why Brad Pigott’s firm — the first hired by Fitch — was removed from the case before the New Orleans-based law firm Jones Walker took it over in August 2022. Her office also could have handled the lawsuit without needing an outside firm.
“When you have Mississippians harmed, [the AG’s office] should be right on top of these types of cases,” Kemp Martin told FOS before the election. “She has not in any way explained to Mississippians why she kicked the can down the road. Fitch has been hands-off and quiet about this.”
There were early indications of Favre potential involvement in the misuse of TANF funds before Favre appeared in a PSA with Fitch in April 2020 to “share an urgent message regarding the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Two weeks after that ad debuted, Favre’s alleged ties to the TANF scandal became more clear when White released the Mississippi Auditor’s Office report of its investigation.
“Right now, calling the shots is Lynn Finch, our Attorney General, and I’m going to pass it over to Lynn now,” Favre said in the ad produced by Fitch’s office.
Now, it appears to be up to federal investigators to pursue criminal charges — if they are warranted — against Favre, former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, or anyone else who hasn’t been charged. Favre has denied any wrongdoing, as has Bryant.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi struck plea deals last year with John Davis, the former director of Mississippi’s Department of Human Services, and Nancy and Zach New, who led a nonprofit where the TANF funds were improperly funneled through.
All three are cooperating with federal authorities, and their sentencing dates are on hold until that probe has concluded. Ted M. DiBiase Jr., the son of the pro wrestler known as “The Million Dollar Man,” was indicted by federal prosecutors in April, and his case remains pending.
Davis, the News and DiBiase allegedly attended a meeting at Favre’s house in January 2019 for a pitch about Prevacus, a pharmaceutical company that counted Favre as its biggest investor. Prevacus later received $1.7 million of TANF funds, according to court documents.
Favre was interviewed by the FBI in early 2020.
Todd Gee was approved by the Senate to take over as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi two months ago, and he’s already shown that his office will step in where Fitch’s office didn’t.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced an investigation into Lexington, Miss., police to determine whether Black residents of the city were subjected to “systemic violations” of their rights.
“Police officers are trusted with the important duty to keep our communities safe,” Gee said in a Nov. 8 statement. “When police officers fail to respect constitutional rights, they violate that trust. Our office is committed to ensuring that everyone in Mississippi is treated fairly and lawfully by the police.”
Since Gee was just sworn in on Oct. 8, veteran federal criminal defense attorney Matt Tympanick said Gee could still be getting up to speed on the TANF probe.
“A new U.S. Attorney is going to want to review all major ongoing investigations,” Tympanick told FOS. “If anyone is going to charge Favre and/or Bryant, it’s going to be up to the feds.”