Pharmaceutical company linked to Brett Favre made pitch for state welfare funds at quarterback’s Mississippi home

NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre received Mississippi officials at his home in January 2019, where a pharmaceutical company executive gave Favre nearly $2 million in state welfare funds, according to CBS News pitch material.

A document distributed at the January 2, 2019 meeting describes plans to receive money from the state Department of Human Services, which runs Mississippi’s welfare program. The pitch was led by Jacob VanLandingham, then CEO of drug company Prevacus, which was trying to develop a concussion drug.

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An attempt to provide a for-profit corporation with funds destined for some of the country’s neediest families is the latest development in a welfare fraud investigation centered around the famous Mississippi quarterback and former state officials.

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Former federal prosecutor Brad Pigott, who investigated the transactions for the state, told CBS News the state-Prevacus agreement was “a monstrous betrayal, both of the poor and of the law.”

The meeting at Favre’s Mississippi home was not his first contact with state officials about the company. A month earlier, text messages first reported by Mississippi Today appear to show that the former NFL quarterback personally influenced then-Governor Phil Bryant. The news site reported that VanLandingham offered Bryant shares in the company, and Bryant agreed to accept them after he left office.

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“It’s the third and long one and we need you to make it happen!!” Favre wrote to the governor, according to Mississippi Today.

Brett Favre
Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

“I’m going to open a hole,” Bryant replied, a reference to the work of a football offensive lineman. Favre later updated Bryant after Prevacus began receiving state funding, according to Mississippi Today.

Eric Herschmann, an attorney for Favre, said in an interview with CBS News that state officials, including Bryant, never told Favre that the money Bryant would provide would come from social funds. Herschmann pointed out that Bryant previously served as Mississippi State’s Comptroller, heading the department that oversees public funds.

“He knew who all the parties involved were. When it came to the fact that those funds weren’t being used or couldn’t be used, he should have been the first to stand up and say something,” Herschmann said. “He never said anything to Brett Favre, nor has anyone else ever told him it was restricted welfare.”

On January 19, 2019, VanLandingham and Zach New, an executive at a nonprofit whose mission is to distribute temporary assistance to families in need, signed a $1.7 million contract promising Mississippi that they in exchange for the money, the “first refusal right for trial sites” in a future phase of the study, designated “1B.” New and his mother, Nancy, plead guilty to state and federal charges related to bribery and fraud arising out of their work for the non-profit Mississippi Community Education Center.

Months later, VanLandhingman asked a state welfare official for the money in a text exchange, which CBS News obtained a screenshot of.

“We’d love to see 784,000,” VanLandingham wrote to an employee at the nonprofit.

“Jake, you can’t even picture the word stress for us right now! In any case, we can send 400,000 today. I have to let Brett (Favre) know that we need to subtract this from what we were hoping to help him with other activities. 😩,” the employee replied, before also asking for “status reports.”

VanLandingham replied: “Thank you, sister. Can we stay in line to get the other 380,000?

Pigott is a former US attorney who investigated the transactions while representing the state in a civil lawsuit claiming millions from dozens of individuals and companies, including Favre and Prevacus.

Pigott said Favre was “the largest single outside investor” in Prevacus when it received the government grant.

“Both federal law and Mississippi law required that 100% of that money be used only for poverty alleviation in Mississippi and preventing teenage pregnancy,” said Pigott, who said Prevacus ended up with $2.1 million receive.

And Pigott said the grant hasn’t lived up to its promise so far. “They have not, as we understand it, conducted clinical trials of Prevacus in Mississippi,” Pigott said.

Prevacus was purchased in 2021 by Nevada-based Odyssey Group International, where VanLandingham is now executive vice president. In September, the company completed its Phase 1 clinical trial. The study was conducted in Australia, according to records from the National Institutes of Health and a September 2021 press release. The company announced in a separate press release five days ago that it is moving into Phase 2 studies.

A lawyer for VanLandingham said in a letter to CBS News that VanLandingham and Prevacus were “never aware that the money they received was from TANF funds or that it was intended to support welfare recipients.”

The attorney, George Schmidt II, said VanLandingham is currently identifying potential sites for the next clinical trial, “which the contract includes sites in Mississippi.”

Favre has previously confirmed he has asked for government funding for a volleyball rink at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, where his daughter was on the team. Favre too repaid more than $1 million in speaking fees, for speeches never delivered, and radio spots paid for by the Mississippi Welfare Fund.

Favre said in a statement to CBS News: “I have been unjustly slandered in the media. I have done nothing wrong and it is high time to set the record straight.”

“Nobody ever told me, and I didn’t know, that money intended for welfare recipients goes to the university or to me, the aim was and always will be to improve the sports facilities at my college,” Favre said.

Neither Favre nor VanLandingham have been charged with a crime.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that then-Governor Phil Bryant was among state officials at a January 2, 2019 meeting at the Brett Favre home. The story has been updated.


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