Brett DiBiase pleads guilty in human services embezzlement scheme
Brett DiBiase, a former deputy administrator for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge tied to the biggest embezzlement scheme in state history, officials said.
DiBiase pleaded guilty to one count of making fraudulent statements for the purpose of defrauding the government, Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens announced Thursday.
State Auditor Shad White said the plea is an important step toward justice for taxpayers and other people affected across the state.
What is Brett DiBiase accused of?
DiBiase, a former professional wrestler, was among six people arrested in February when a state audit found millions of taxpayer dollars were misappropriated through the human services department.
According to the audit report, DiBiase received $48,000 in welfare funding to "inform, update, and education MDHS staff and partners in identifying opioid abuse" as well as teach 24 training sessions on opioids. Those sessions never occurred.
Instead, investigators said that money was used to pay for a stay at a luxury drug rehabilitation clinic in Malibu, California.
Who is Brett DiBiase?:How an ex-pro wrestler became a top welfare official in Mississippi — and got indicted
DiBiase was hired by former human services department director John Davis in February 2017. According to his LinkedIn profile, during his tenure, he acted as a "deputy director of transformational change." He resigned seven months later, but remained close to the department through Families First for Mississippi, a nonprofit organization that was largely funded by the human services department.
Who else is involved in the embezzlement scheme?
A Clarion Ledger review of public documents found the two people at the center of the alleged scam — Nancy New, 67, and her son Zach New, 36 — are connected to a wide network of private schools, job training programs and other organizations and businesses.
The News are most well known for their private schools, which are operated by New Learning Resource and focus on students with special needs.
Indictments show the News used at least $4.15 million of money from one of their nonprofits for personal use. That nonprofit, the Mississippi Community Education Center, is key to the investigation, court documents show.
The Mississippi Community Education Center also runs Families First for Mississippi.
Two MCEC employees and Davis were also arrested for their alleged ties to the scheme in February.
For subscribers:What we know about the Mississippi welfare embezzlement scandal
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the embezzlement case as involving the Mississippi State Department of Health. The Clarion Ledger regrets this error.
Contact Keisha Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter or at (601) 760-2483.