SHOCK-TOBER REPORT: Tate Reeves Sued For Allegedly Protecting Himself And His Political Allies In Largest Public Corruption Scandal In State History
According to a new shocking report from Mississippi Today, a defendant in the state’s welfare scandal lawsuit sued Tate Reeves yesterday, claiming that he is protecting himself and his political allies, like former Gov. Phil Bryant and SuperTalk radio, in the state’s welfare lawsuit.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 11, 2023
Nettleton – According to a new shocking report from Mississippi Today, a defendant in the state’s welfare scandal lawsuit sued Tate Reeves yesterday, claiming that he is protecting himself and his political allies, like former Gov. Phil Bryant and SuperTalk radio, in the state’s welfare lawsuit.
The report also reveals new unreleased text messages about Reeves from officials with Prevacus, a drug company tied to Brett Favre that received millions of taxpayer dollars in the largest public corruption scandal in state history. The head of the company texted, “Tate Reeves is our new guy” and bragged that he was meeting with Reeves. One board member commented, “Let me get this process down correct. We get $2 million from MS Gov Office and we ear mark some of the funds to the next MS Gov. Campaign fund. America at its best.”
John Pelissero, a government ethics expert, says that Reeves should “recuse himself from being directly involved in this investigation” because of the allegations that he and his brother are at the center of the largest public corruption scandal in state history.
This follows a jaw-dropping report that revealed that Todd Reeves, Tainted Tate Reeves’ brother, coordinated in a backchannel with state Auditor Shad White to do damage control for Brett Favre after the audit revealed that millions of taxpayer dollars meant for working families were stolen and misspent on a volleyball stadium, a horse ranch, and even to fund Tate’s own personal trainer.
“The largest public corruption scandal in state history is a Reeves family affair, and it is time for Tate Reeves to recuse himself,” said Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee Brandon Presley. “Tate Reeves is too ethically compromised to lead this investigation - from receiving campaign contributions from central figures in this scandal to his brother cutting backchannel deals for an NFL star - it’s clear he has to step aside so Mississippi taxpayer dollars can be recovered free from Tate Reeves’ conflicts of interest.”
Read more from the stunning report here:
Mississippi Today: Welfare scandal defendant sues Gov. Tate Reeves, claims he’s protecting himself and political allies
October 11, 2023
A defendant in the state’s welfare scandal lawsuit sued Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday, claiming the governor is illegally controlling the lawsuit to protect himself and political allies including former Gov. Phil Bryant and Republican-leaning SuperTalk radio.
The lawsuit calls for an injunction removing Reeves from control of the state’s lawsuit regarding the welfare scandal and for the governor to repay the state millions of dollars for money spent on a private audit and private law firm.
The lawsuit also includes previously unreleased text messages about Reeves from officials with a drug company, Prevacus, championed by former NFL star Brett Favre. Authorities say the company illegally received welfare money. The lawsuit says the messages show Bryant — whom “Defendant Reeves refuses to sue” — persuaded Prevacus to support Reeves to continue the flow of welfare funds to the company.
As Reeves was running for governor and Bryant was preparing to leave office, the head of the drug company, Jake Vanlandingham, texted, “Tate Reeves is our new guy,” to his company’s board members, and that he was going to meet with Bryant and Reeves, “Hoping to keep that non-dilute (funding) running our way!!” Non-dilutive is funding for a company where the company loses no equity.
One board member responded, “A very sweet deal. Who do we send campaign contributions to?” Vanlandingham, who is now a defendant in the state lawsuit, responded Reeves.
Another board member commented, “Let me get this process down correct. We get $2 million from MS Gov Office and we ear mark some of the funds to the next MS Gov. Campaign fund. America at its best.”
Vanlandingham responded, “Haha. Not the case.” A few days later, he messaged Favre that he was about to meet with Reeves and, “… we get more grant funds first week of July.” He later texted Favre that he “had a good talk with Tate Reeves.”
The lawsuit was filed by Austin Smith, the nephew of convicted former welfare chief John Davis and former manager of two programs targeted in state and federal investigations. The state is suing Smith for nearly $500,000. He’s one of 47 defendants from whom Mississippi is trying to claw back millions in misspent or stolen welfare money. Attorney Jim Waide, who is representing Smith, has previously claimed in court filings that Reeves and former Gov. Phil Bryant should be defendants in the state’s case.
The new lawsuit claims Reeves is refusing to sue Bryant, even though “there is overwhelming evidence of Bryant’s direct involvement” in both funding the drug company and providing $6 million in welfare funds for a volleyball stadium at Bryant’s and Favre’s alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi. The lawsuit notes a separate criminal defendant in the scandal has alleged Bryant, who has not been charged by state or federal authorities, directed payments of over $1 million to Favre.
The lawsuit also claims Reeves is neglecting to sue Telesouth Communications Inc., which operates the SuperTalk radio network. It says that the network received $600,000 in welfare funds for advertising that was “made without the fair and open competition required by federal regulations.” The lawsuit refers to SuperTalk as “the Republican Party’s chief media advocate,” and not suing SuperTalk while suing “politically powerless defendants” such as Smith is an abuse of process, arbitrary government action and a denial of equal protection of the law.
Reeves made clear last year that he was calling major shots in the state investigation and lawsuit to recoup millions in stolen or misspent welfare money. The Mississippi Department of Human Services, in charge of the welfare spending, reports to the governor’s office. Reeves had dismissed — for political reasons — the private attorney who had been handling the case for the state. The state auditor, who first uncovered the massive fraud and scandal, said this move by Reeves was a mistake.
After the state hired a Jackson-based law firm — a campaign donor to Reeves — to take over the suit, the governor vowed the state “will vigorously pursue this case … wherever it leads,” and will “eagerly cooperate with … criminal investigators” also probing the scandal.
Last year, Waide asked the state court to examine whether Reeves is controlling the case to protect himself and his supporters. He said Reeves should be a target of the welfare lawsuit, not in charge of it.
The new lawsuit filed this week claims Reeves, who oversees the state’s welfare agency, lacked legal authority to spend $2 million in welfare funds to hire a private accounting firm “to duplicate an audit already lawfully performed by the state auditor.” Mississippi Today reporting last year showed the MDHS director Reeves appointed pushed to limit who and what the hired audit could examine, and he tried to keep the state auditor and other law enforcement agencies out of the mix. A deputy state auditor referred to the audit as a “whitewash.”
The new lawsuit said Reeves also lacked authority to hire a private law firm to handle the state’s lawsuit to recoup money, and that the use of welfare money to pay the law firm violates federal law.
The lawsuit also claims “Reeves may have been involved in” a transaction with his former personal trainer, Paul Lacoste, another defendant in the state lawsuit.
Mississippi Today reports have previously uncovered text messages that connect the governor to Lacoste. The texts show former welfare director John Davis, who has pleaded guilty to federal and state criminal charges in the scandal, directed a subordinate to send $1.3 million in welfare funds for “the Lieutenant Governor’s (Reeves’) fitness issue.”
Mississippi Today has also reported texts that show the governor’s brother, Todd Reeves, coordinated with state Auditor Shad White on damage control for former NFL star Brett Favre. An audit revealed the athlete had received $1.1 million in welfare funds for speeches the auditor said Favre never made. Todd Reeves also had arranged conversations with Gov. Reeves so that Favre could ask for the governor’s help in funding a volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi, a key focus of investigation to date into the welfare scandal.
Reeves last year said he dismissed the attorney who had been handling the case for the state. That lawyer, former U.S. attorney Brad Pigott, was removed from the case after he attempted to subpoena the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation’s communication with former Gov. Phil Bryant and others. Authorities say $5 million in welfare money was improperly diverted to build the volleyball stadium at USM.
Reeves’ staff had already forced Pigott to remove the university’s athletic foundation — whose board is made up of many of Reeves’ major campaign donors — from the civil suit.
Reeves said he ousted Pigott, who had worked on the case for about a year, because he wasn’t up to the task of such a large lawsuit and that Pigott had a “political agenda” and craved the media spotlight. Pigott said he was fired on Reeves’ orders because he sought communications between the USM foundation, Bryant, Bryant’s wife, Deborah, and Favre involving the stadium.
John Pelissero is an author and expert on government ethics. He is a longtime political science professor and former provost at Loyola University Chicago and a senior scholar in government at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
Pelissero said he believes Reeves “should recuse himself from being directly involved in this investigation” and making decisions such as which lawyers to hire or fire.
Pelissero said that even if there was no wrongdoing by Reeves, the basic tenets of government ethics would call for him to bow out of the mix because of questions about him and his brother, campaign contributions Reeves accepted from defendants and other issues.
“I would think the governor would recuse himself from being directly involved in this based on a couple of things … One, the governor is alleged to have steered some of the funds, these welfare funds, to other projects,” Pelissero said. “Two, he’s got a family member who has some involvement with one of the individuals being sued, that being the former quarterback.
“… There are two broad ethical categories here,” Pelissero said. “One is the question of whether there is a direct violation of law or policy … But the other ethical issue that arises is when there simply appears to be the possibility something unethical is going on. That perception can be just as corrosive to trust in government as a legal or policy violation.”