(Reuters) - Nearly $100 million in federal anti-poverty funds for Mississippi were misspent to enrich local officials, along with a family of professional wrestlers and a firm owned by Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, the state auditor has alleged.
A review of how the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) spent the money showed stunning levels of corruption that could endanger future federal funding for anti-poverty programs in one of the poorest states in the United States, state auditor Shad White said.
"You see a pretty grotesque example of misspending of taxpayer dollars," White told reporters at a news conference, when the audit was released on Monday.
Among the accusations is that Favre Enterprises, the small consulting firm of former NFL quarterback Favre, took in $1.1 million in money that should have been used for poverty programs, but instead was paid for speaking engagements that Favre never carried out.
Calls to Favre Enterprises went unanswered and there was no response to requests for comment sent to Favre's longtime agent Bus Cook.
White said it was possible people and entities contracted and paid with the federal funds may not have known they were legally earmarked for anti-poverty work.
The audit comes after the arrest in February of John White, the former head of MDHS, along with five others allegedly involved in the scheme. White and the others arrested have all pleaded innocent.
The audit found $94 million in questionable spending and it will now be up to the federal government to determine if the money was spent illegally, White said.
The audit shows that two non-profits - the Mississippi Community Education Center and the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi - were the recipients of most of the $94 million it alleges was misspent.
Neither responded to emailed and phoned requests for comment.
Family members of those working at the non-profits were paid lump sums for work that was never detailed - nor carried out, according to the audit .
Much of the money went to a family of professional wrestlers with Mississippi ties, the auditor's office said. Former wrestler Ted Dibiase - who performed as "The Million Dollar Man" - and two of his sons were paid for work that was not performed and for programs that did not help the needy, it said.
Money was also spent on religious concerts and for donations to organizations not tied to anti-poverty work, including the Mississippi Highway Patrol, the American Heart Association and various beauty pageants.
Requests for comment sent to DiBiase's personal website and to his Heart of David Ministry were not returned.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown)