John Davis, former Mississippi agency leader, pleads guilty to conspiracy charges

·3 min read

Sep. 22—JACKSON — John Davis, the former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, pleaded guilty today to two federal charges and 18 state counts of fraud or conspiracy in connection to how the agency he led for several years misspent million federal welfare dollars.

Davis pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of federal dollars, which carry a maximum prison sentences of five and 10 years, respectively.

Davis also will plead guilty to five state counts of conspiracy and 13 state counts of fraud against the government, according to a notice of dismissal file in Hinds County Circuit Court.

The court filing does not indicate what kind of deal he received for pleading guilty, but it does show that Davis is expected to cooperate with federal and state officials and testify against other criminal defendants.

Documents also indicate that Davis will spend his entire sentence in federal prison and avoid the brutal conditions inside of Mississippi's state prisons.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves accepted Davis' guilty plea and told him that he is looking forward to seeing this portion of the former director's life behind him and hopes he re-enters society one day to be a productive citizen.

"I hope you serve this sentence with dignity and respect," Reeves told Davis.

Neither Davis nor his attorneys commented to reporters outside of the federal courthouse in Jackson.

Davis was released on bond until his sentencing hearing on Feb. 2, 2023, but that date could change. Now that Davis is a convicted felon, he can no longer possess a firearm or hold elected office.

Davis also agreed not to appeal any portion of his conviction and not try to obtain information about his case.

Davis' guilty plea marks a notable moment in the sprawling investigation that involves millions of allegedly misspent federal dollars and that has entangled six criminal defendants so far.

The scandal first came to public light around two years ago when State Auditor Shad White announced that his office had arrested six people in connection to allegations over misspending federal welfare dollars.

"Today marks an important day for justice for Mississippians in the massive welfare scheme that my office uncovered more than two years ago," White said in a statement. "District Attorney Jody Owens and his team did an incredible job putting a stop to the flow of money to the fraudsters who took from the poorest in the state."

Davis' plea deal could have implications for a Northeast Mississippi nonprofit that state leaders have also purported misspent federal welfare dollars.

Documents related to Davis' charges state there are four unindicted co-conspirators who participated in the scheme with Davis. It's unclear who all the other co-conspirators are.

Casey Lott, an attorney representing the Tupelo-based Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, told the Daily Journal on Wednesday that it appears Christi Webb, the director of the FRC, has been "vaguely identified" as one of the co-conspirators.

Lott disputed some of the claims attached in the federal complaint, and said it was "absurd" for federal prosecutors to claim Webb was conspiring with Davis. Webb was not identified as a criminal defendant.

Davis is now the fifth person to plead guilty to criminal charges in connection to the massive welfare scandal.

Nancy and Zach New, leaders of a nonprofit who received welfare dollars, pleaded guilty to state charges in the welfare case and separate federal fraud charges they faced in connection to public school funding. The News have also agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.

Ann McGrew, an accountant for the News' nonprofit, has also pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit embezzlement in connection with the welfare case. As part of her plea deal, she has agreed to testify against other defendants.

Tedd DiBiase, a former professional wrestler, pleaded guilty to making fraudulent statements for the purpose of defrauding the government.