Ex-wrestler pleads guilty again in Mississippi welfare fraud

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A former pro wrestler pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge related to misspending of welfare money that was supposed to help needy families in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the U.S.

Brett DiBiase faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine for his plea to conspiracy to defraud the federal government.

He pleaded guilty in December 2020 to a state charge of making false representations to defraud the government. State sentencing was delayed, and DiBiase has been cooperating with state and federal investigators looking at others in the case, Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens said.

Owens and Mississippi Auditor Shad White announced DiBiase’s federal guilty plea.

“I applaud our federal partners for continuing to pursue federal charges for each and every individual responsible for stealing from Mississippi’s most needy and vulnerable citizens,” Owens said Thursday. “This case is far from over and both the state of Mississippi and the U.S. government will continue to pursue all those involved in this fraud, regardless of their position or standing.”

White said the auditor's office will continue to assist prosecutors as they decide who will face criminal charges.

“I’m pleased that our work uncovering the largest public fraud in state history continues to result in convictions," White said.

John Davis, who was Mississippi Department of Human Services executive director from 2016 to mid-2019, pleaded guilty last September to state and federal charges tied to misspending of money through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.

Davis' state court charges were mostly tied to welfare money spent on DiBiase, including $160,000 for the former wrestler's drug rehabilitation in Malibu, California.

Davis, DiBiase and four other people were indicted on state charges in the welfare misspending case in February 2020.

Two of those indicted, a mother and son who ran a nonprofit organization and an education company, pleaded guilty in April 2022 to state charges of misusing welfare money, including on lavish gifts such as the first-class airfare for Davis. Nancy New and Zachary New ran the organization that funneled welfare money for DiBiase's drug rehab. They agreed to testify against others.

The welfare scandal has ensnared high-profile figures, including retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who lives in Mississippi. Favre has not faced criminal charges but is one of more than three dozen defendants in a civil lawsuit that the current Human Services director filed to try to recover some of the welfare money wasted while Davis was in charge.

Welfare money helped fund pet projects of the wealthy, including $5 million for a volleyball arena that Favre supported at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, the state auditor said. Favre’s daughter played volleyball at the school starting in 2017.