The ongoing criminal and civil cases related to the state’s welfare fraud scheme played a significant role in the political speeches and statements at the Neshoba County Fair on Thursday.
The welfare scandal, much of which was uncovered by Mississippi Today reporter Anna Wolfe, escalated earlier this week when the state chose not to renew its contract with an attorney investigating the case, who had been seeking a subpoena against the former Gov. Phil Bryant.
The attorney, Brad Pigott, told Mississippi Today he believes he was fired due to seeking the subpoena.
During his speech at the fair, State Auditor Shad White cited the investigation into the fraud scheme as a key accomplishment of his office.
“We have uncovered and put a stop to the largest fraud scheme in the history of the state of Mississippi,” White said.
He went on the address complaints that not enough people had been charged, saying those decisions are made by local district attorneys and the state attorney general‘s office.
“We do not get to choose who gets prosecuted,” White said. “We audit.”
Attorney General Lynn Fitch responded to those comments following her speech.
“Certainly the AG’s office is very engaged, but it’s a pending investigation and I can’t comment on pending investigations,” Fitch said.
As for the termination of Pigott, Fitch said he was not fired.
“Technically, the contract expired,” Fitch said.
Gov. Tate Reeves touched on why Pigott’s contract was allowed to expire without being renewed.
“I’m not personally involved in the day-to-day decision-making in this case or any others, but when there’s a big decision, obviously, it comes to my desk, and we made the decision early on in this case that we were going to hire an outside, independent, third-party to do a forensic audit on the funds.
“That outside third party did exactly that, and when that outside third party did it, they had a number of different categories that various expenditures fell into. One of the categories that those expenditures fell into were those that they identified as ‘waste, fraud and abuse,'” Reeves said. “There seemed to be a pattern by the lawyer that DHS was originally hired to want to move beyond those that were in that category for purposes of this litigation. It was almost as if there was a political agenda from this particular lawyer.”
Reeves emphasized the difference between the civil case, which Pigott was working on, and the criminal case. He said as the criminal case uncovers more information, it could lead to an expansion in the civil case.
“There are numerous federal agencies doing a criminal investigation. That criminal investigation is ongoing. Literally, those federal agencies include the Department of Justice, the FBI, the fraud investigators at HHS, as well as the US Attorneys Office, and the Hinds County DA’s office and other prosecutorial assets,” Reeves said. “Those entities are looking into any criminal aspect, and our office and everyone that works in the Reeves administration has fully supported and fully complied and worked closely with every single one of those investigations.”
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Welfare fraud case discussed by state officials at Neshoba County Fair
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