Mississippi welfare agency’s ex-director pleads guilty to fraud

Prosecutors said the former executive director of Mississippi’s welfare agency pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to defraud the state of millions in federal funds meant to help families in need.

John Davis, 54, a former Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) officer pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of theft from programs receiving federal funds. A short time later in a state court, he pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy against the government and 13 counts of fraud.

John Davis, former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, followed by his attorney Merida Coxwell, Wright, leaves Thad Cochrane United States Courthouse in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis/AP Newsroom)

According to court documents, Davis and his unnamed co-conspirators received and misused federal funds from Temporarily Needy Families (TANF) and Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) for their personal gain.

The documents described the two alleged conspirators as executive directors of the organizations, one as the owner of two companies and one only as residents of Hinds County, Mississippi.

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The documents also state that Davis directed MDHS to provide federal funding to two nonprofits and then directed the two nonprofits to fraudulently provide contracts for social services to various entities and individuals. which were never provided.

Davis caused these nonprofits to pay full or almost full payments according to the fake contacts — even if the work was done.

John Davis

John Davis, former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, talks with defense attorneys Merida Coxwell, right, and Charles Mullins on Thursday, September 22, 2022, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis/AP Newsroom)

The conspiracy charges state that an organization paid approximately $498,000 to one of the companies in June 2018. A few days later, that company signed a $1.1 million contract with another company “allegedly in exchange for creating a program to serve inner-city youth.” The allegations also state that the same organization paid the company $700,000 with a youth program contract that summer.

The theft charges say Davis misappropriated federal grants worth more than $10,000.

Federal charges were handed down on September 15, but sealed as of Wednesday. Davis waived the charge and agreed to plead guilty.

Davis faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy counts and 10 years in prison for theft related to programs receiving federal funds. His sentence is scheduled for early February next year.

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The scandal has led to criminal charges against several people, including pro wrestler Ted DiBiase, better known as the “Million Dollar Man”. The scandal has also raised questions about retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, though neither have been charged with welfare wrongful spending.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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