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Zach New, 4 others plead not guilty in DHS welfare fraud case

Five of the six people arrested in the fraud case involving the former head of Mississippi’s Department of Human Services pleaded not guilty on Wednesday.

Two of those who made their appearance at the Hinds County Circuit Court in Jackson and pleaded not guilty included Nancy and Zach New. The News are charged with allegedly stealing more than $4 million in welfare funds that former DHS head John Davis allegedly steered to the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC), which was supposed to help poor people find work, childcare and education.

State Auditor Shad White announced Feb. 5 that Davis and the others had been indicted on state criminal charges in what he called a “sprawling conspiracy.” White said investigators believe at least $4 million in federal welfare money was stolen.

Nancy New is the owner and director of the MCEC and New Learning, Incorporated, which she founded in 1991. Zach, her son, is also involved in his mother’s companies and is the executive director of Oxford University School. Last April, OUS announced a partnership between them and the New Learning Resource School District (NLRSD).

The News are connected to several nonprofits and schools. MCEC, operating as Families First for Mississippi, received more than $44 million in government grants from mid-2014 to mid-2018, according to nonprofit tax filings. The Associated Press reported earlier this month that amounts spiked to $12.9 million and $26.7 million in the last two years, as Davis outsourced a large portion of Mississippi’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families spending to the group.

Nancy New’s trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 28, and Zach New’s trial date was not shown on court documents, according to the Associated Press. Davis’ trial is set to begin on June 1. Others who pleaded not guilty included former wrestler Brett DiBiase and Anne McGrew, an accountant for the education center. Trial dates for DiBiase and McGrew were not listed.

According to the Associated Press, court records on Thursday did not show any sort of plea having been made by former DHS employee Lattimer Smith, and the records did not show a trial date for him.