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The former executive director of Mississippi’s welfare agency pleaded guilty Thursday for conspiring to defraud the state millions in federal funds meant for helping needy families, prosecutors said.
John Davis, 54, a former official for the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of theft from programs receiving federal funds. A short time later In state court, he pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy and 13 counts of fraud against the government.
John Davis, former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, followed by his attorney Merrida Coxwell, right, leaves the Thad Cochran 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 fraudulently obtained and misused federal funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) for their own personal benefit.
The documents describe 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.
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The documents also say that Davis directed MDHS to provide federal funds to two nonprofit organizations and then directed two nonprofit organizations to fraudulently award contracts to various entities and individuals for social services that were never provided.
Davis also caused these nonprofit organizations to disburse full or nearly-full payments pursuant to the fake contacts – regardless of whether the work had been fulfilled.
John Davis, former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services confers with defense attorneys Merrida Coxwell, right, and Charles Mullins, left, in Jackson, Miss., on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis / AP Newsroom)
The conspiracy 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 theft charges say Davis misused federal grants of more than $10,000.
The federal charges were handed down Sept. 15, but remained sealed until Wednesday. Davis waived indictment and agreed to plead guilty.
Davis faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the conspiracy count and 10 years in prison for the theft concerning programs receiving federal funds count. His sentencing is scheduled for early February next year.
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The scandal has produced criminal charges against several people, including pro wrestler Ted DiBiase, known as the "million dollar man." The scandal also has raised questions about retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, though neither has been charged in the welfare misspending case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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