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A former pro wrestler is charged in Mississippi with welfare fraud

Former professional wrestler Ted "Teddy" DiBiase Jr. speaks  in Jackson, Miss., on Sept. 23, 2015. A federal indictment unsealed on Thursday said companies run by DiBiase received "sham contracts" in Mississippi and misspent millions of dollars of welfare money.
Rick Guy
/
The Clarion Ledger, via AP
Former professional wrestler Ted "Teddy" DiBiase Jr. speaks in Jackson, Miss., on Sept. 23, 2015. A federal indictment unsealed on Thursday said companies run by DiBiase received "sham contracts" in Mississippi and misspent millions of dollars of welfare money.

JACKSON, Miss. — Companies run by a former professional wrestler received "sham contracts" in Mississippi and misspent millions of dollars of welfare money that was supposed to help some of the neediest people in the U.S., according to a new federal indictment.

The indictment of former wrestler Ted "Teddy" DiBiase Jr., 40, of Madison, Mississippi, was unsealed Thursday, two days after it was issued by a grand jury in Jackson. During a brief court appearance Thursday, he pleaded not guilty.

"Jesus loves you, brother. God bless you, man," DiBiase told a WAPT-TV reporter outside the federal courthouse Thursday. DiBiase and his attorney offered no other comment.

The indictment is the latest development in a sprawling Mississippi corruption caseinvolving wealthy and well-connected people receiving contracts from the state Department of Human Services from 2016 to 2019.

DiBiase was a WWE wrestler in the 2000s and 2010s. The indictment accuses him and co-conspirators, including former Mississippi Department of Human Services directorJohn Davis, of fraudulently obtaining federal money and using it for their own benefit.

According to the indictment, Davis directed funds from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to two nonprofit organizations — Family Resource Center of North Mississippi Inc. and Mississippi Community Education Center.

Davis directed the organizations' directors to award contracts in 2017 and 2018 to DiBiase's companies, Priceless Ventures LLC and Familiae Orientem LLC, for social services that the companies did not provide, the indictment said.

"DiBiase allegedly used these federal funds to buy a vehicle and a boat, and for the down payment on the purchase of a house, among other expenditures," the Justice Department said in a news release Thursday.

The Associated Press left phone messages with DiBiase's attorney Thursday, seeking comment on the indictment.

DiBiase is 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.

If convicted, he would face up to five years in prison for the conspiracy count, up to 20 years for each wire fraud count and up to 10 years for each count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and for each count of money laundering, the Justice Department said.

Davis pleaded guilty last year to charges tied to welfare misspending in state's largest public corruption case, including $160,000 spent on drug rehabilitation in Malibu, California, for former pro wrestler Brett DiBiase, the brother of Ted DiBiase Jr.

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, Mississippi Auditor Shad White said. Favre's daughter played volleyball at the school starting in 2017.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]