Court Filing: Officials Lost Federal Welfare Funds to African Gold Scam

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(Ken Silva, Headline USA) Federal welfare funds intended for Mississippi’s poorest residents were diverted into an African heiress gold bar scam, according to a recent court filing in a state lawsuit over the matter.

The court filing was made in an ongoing lawsuit by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, which is seeking to recover millions of dollars in misspent welfare funds.

The lawsuit stems from a scandal in which Mississippi’s rich and famous—including a former governor, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre and three pro wrestlers—allegedly siphoned more than $20 million in federal welfare funds for their various pet projects. Those projects included a university volleyball stadium, a drug rehab center and a horse ranch—and, according to the recent court filing, an African gold scam.

The court filing—filed in December by Mississippi Community Education Center, Inc., which is one of the defendants in the ongoing lawsuit—alleges that a scientist named Jake Vanlandingham and his business partner, Don Martin, are responsible for losing welfare funds to the gold scam.

According to the filing, Farve was working with Vanlandingham to raise funds for the scientist’s pharmaceutical startup firm, Prevacus, which was trying to develop a drug to treat concussions.

Favre, who was friends with Mississippi’s governor at the time, helped divert $1.7 million in federal welfare funds to Vanlandingham’s startup, Prevacus, according to the lawsuit.

Vanlandingham then used some of that money to pursue the African gold scam in hopes of securing an even larger investment for his company, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, Vanlandingham was told by his partner, Martin, in Ghana that a woman named “Daniella wants to invest in … Prevacus.” Martin told him that the woman’s father “gave her gold bars to keep in case of an emergency before he died,” the lawsuit said.

“Vanlandingham believed the story and kept sending additional funds,” the lawsuit said. “The Prevacus funds that Vanlandingham invested in Ghana included grant funds from the State of Mississippi.”

The lawsuit said that Vanlandingham realized he was scammed by June 2019 and threatened to call the FBI on his partner in Ghana.

The scam was finally made public in early 2020, when Nancy New, Zachary New, former Mississippi Department of Human Services executive director John Davis and three other people were charged in state court.

Eight people have been indicted, six of whom have pleaded guilty for their involvement, including former MDHS director Davis and Nancy New, who was the head of the Mississippi Community Education Center, a nonprofit through which much of the funding flowed. Favre has denied wrongdoing and has not been criminally charged. He and Vanlandingham are facing civil charges. The former governor involved in the scandal, Phil Bryant, has not faced criminal or civil charges.

Martin, for his part, told Mississippi Today in December that he’d fallen for the scam and that he never received a dime from the Ghana investor group.

The criminal investigation is ongoing, as is the lawsuit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.

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