Federal sentencing of Davis delayed in Mississippi welfare fraud case

Published 4:49 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

(AP) — A federal judge signed an order Friday to indefinitely delay sentencing of a former Mississippi welfare director in a case about misspending money that was intended to help needy families in one of the poorest states in the U.S.

John Davis, of Brookhaven, pleaded guilty to federal and state charges in September and agreed to testify against others in Mississippi’s largest public corruption case. His sentencing originally was set for Feb. 2.

The U.S. attorney’s office for southern Mississippi filed papers Jan. 20 to request a delay, writing that “sentencing in this case will be complex.” U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves approved the request Friday to delay sentencing “until a date convenient to all parties.”

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Davis was executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services from February 2016 through July 2019. He was appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican.

Davis was an influential figure in a scandal that has snared several people, including pro wrestler Ted DiBiase, known as the “million dollar man,” whose Christian ministry was ordered to repay more than $720,000 in misspent welfare money.

The scandal also has raised questions about Bryant and retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, although neither of them has faced criminal charges. The state is suing Favre in a civil case that seeks to recover misspent welfare money. Davis had direct control of federal welfare money that was channeled to pet projects such as a new volleyball arena at the university where Favre’s daughter played the sport.

On Sept. 22, Davis pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of theft from programs receiving federal funds. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

The federal charges say Davis conspired with four other people, who were not named. Court documents described two of the alleged conspirators as executive directors of organizations, one as the owner of two companies and one only as a resident of Hinds County, Mississippi.

The charges say one organization paid nearly $498,000 to one of the companies in June 2018. A few days later, that company entered a $1.1 million contract with the other company “purportedly in exchange for creating a program to serve inner-city youth.” The charges also say the same organization paid $700,000 that summer to the company with the youth program contract.

The federal theft charges say Davis misused federal grants of more than $10,000.

Hours after pleading guilty in federal court, Davis appeared in state court and pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy and 13 counts of fraud against the government. Hinds County Circuit Judge Adrienne Wooten gave Davis a 90-year sentence with 58 of those suspended and 32 to serve. She put him on house arrest until his federal sentencing.

The state court charges were mostly tied to welfare money spent on one of Ted DiBiase’s sons, Brett DiBiase, who was also a pro wrestler. The spending included $160,000 for drug rehabilitation for Brett DiBiase in Malibu, California, and more than $1,000 for first-class airfare for Davis to travel to Malibu to see him.

By Emily Wagster Pettus