JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – On Thursday, a federal indictment was unsealed in Mississippi charging a former professional wrestler with misappropriating millions of dollars in federal safety-net funds intended for needy families and low-income individuals in the state.
According to court documents, Theodore Marvin DiBiase Jr., 40, of Madison, along with co-conspirators John Davis, Christi Webb, Nancy New, and others, are alleged to have fraudulently obtained federal funds, including from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Davis was the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS). DiBiase was a WWE wrestler in the 2000s and 2010s.
As part of the alleged scheme, after federal funds were issued to MDHS, prosecutors said Davis directed MDHS to subgrant the funds to two nonprofit organizations, Family Resource Center of North Mississippi Inc. (FRC) and Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC), which were operated by Webb and New, respectively.
Davis allegedly directed Webb and New to award sham contracts to various individuals and entities purportedly for the delivery of social services, including at least five sham contracts that were awarded to DiBiase’s companies, Priceless Ventures LLC and Familiae Orientem LLC.
According to the indictment, FRC and MCEC provided millions of dollars in federal funds from MDHS to DiBiase and his companies for social services that DiBiase did not provide and did not intend to provide. DiBiase allegedly used these federal funds to buy a vehicle and a boat, and for the down payment on the purchase of a house.
DiBiase has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to commit theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, six counts of wire fraud, two counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, and four counts of money laundering.
“Prosecutors decide whom to charge with a crime, and we’re grateful to see them continuing to advance this case. We will continue to support their efforts with the evidence that our investigators and federal investigators have uncovered,” said State Auditor Shad White.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the conspiracy count, a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count, and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for each count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and for each count of money laundering.
DiBiase’s brother, former pro wrestler Brett DiBiase, has pleaded guilty to state and federal charges tied to the case.
The welfare misspending scandal has ensnared high-profile figures, including retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who is not facing criminal charges but is among 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.
Mississippi has ranked among the poorest states in the U.S. for decades, but only a fraction of its federal welfare money has been going toward direct aid to families. Instead, the Mississippi Department of Human Services allowed well-connected people to fritter away tens of millions of welfare dollars from 2016 to 2019, according to the state auditor and state and federal prosecutors.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money helped pay for pet projects of the wealthy, including $5 million for a volleyball arena that Favre supported at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, White said. Favre’s daughter played volleyball at the school starting in 2017.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.