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Mississippi gave 'Million Dollar Man' Ted DiBiase's nonprofit over $2M in welfare money

Ted DiBiase Sr. [Courtesy: WWE]
Ted DiBiase Sr. [Courtesy: WWE]

The state of Mississippi doled out more than $2.1  million in welfare to a religious and wrestling nonprofit run by former  professional wrestler Ted DiBiase Sr., state records show. 

DiBiase, who as a wrestler dubbed "The Million Dollar Man" wore a golden  championship belt adorned with dollar signs, later turned to preaching  and formed a nonprofit in Mississippi called Heart of David Ministries.

Heart of David Ministries had relatively meager funds until DiBiase's son was hired as deputy administrator at the Mississippi Department of Human  Services in early 2017. Both DiBiase's son Brett and the director who  hired him were indicted last week as part of a massive alleged embezzlement scheme that also involved welfare money.

Heart of David Ministries — which received as much as $900,000 one year from  the Mississippi Department of Human Services — describes its central  mission in nonprofit filings as "religious education & training." It reported spending its 2017 grant money on "general church speaking  engagements, religious conferences, school assemblies, and wrestling  events. The money came through a federal fund called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly known as welfare. Six people were indicted last week as part of a scheme that allegedly stole more than $4.15 million in  welfare money.

Ted DiBiase Sr. was not named in the indictments.

It is unclear precisely how Heart of David Ministries used the $2,126,739  in welfare money it received. The payments began in May 2017 and  continued until the current fiscal year. As MDHS officials pumped money  into DiBiase's nonprofit, the state was denying more than 98% of its individual applicants for welfare.

Heart of David was vague in describing how it would use the money. It pledged in one 2018 contract to "establish a network of partnerships, services  and resources throughout Mississippi communities for faith-based and  self activities."

The man in charge of the state's welfare distribution — including the  grants to Heart of David — was John Davis, former director of the  Mississippi Department of Human Services. He was among those indicted  last week. Davis, who departed DHS last summer, decided to hire  DiBiase's son Brett in 2017, agency spokesman Danny Blanton said. 

Blanton said the contracts with Heart of David did not go through a bidding  process. Davis often would "unilaterally" distribute the federal grant  money without bidding, Blanton said.

The agency has since implemented a more robust  committee system to review bids before awarding contracts for TANF money and other grants, Blanton said. Heart of David, he added, is no longer  receiving grant money from the department.  

The Clarion Ledger made several attempts to reach DiBiase and his family. A woman who answered the door at his Clinton home called the Clarion  Ledger's past reporting "fictitious." She declined to comment. Attempts  to reach the board of directors and other officials connected to Heart of David Ministries were unsuccessful.

DiBiase founded Heart of David Ministries 20 years ago. He has said he  became a Christian minister after struggling with alcohol and drugs and  cheating on his wife while on the road for wrestling events. As part of  the nonprofit, he often travels to speak at churches and events.

“I was traveling the world in Lear jets and  limousines. I had it all, but I had succumbed to those things on the  road that take us away — the drugs, the booze and the women,” DiBiase told former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in a 2017 interview. “I had put the most important things in my life at risk to stroke my ego."

Heart of David Ministries does not appear to have filed any tax documents with the IRS for the past two years, despite receiving nearly $2 million in federal funds during that time.  As of 2017, its board of directors included a former Ole Miss punter, an Ohio attorney and a Jackson youth minister. 

The website for Heart of a David Ministries has few details about the organization and what it does.

Most years, Heart of David received relatively  small amounts of donations and grants and no substantial money from the  government. In 2013, for example, it pulled in just $5,000 in grants, a  number that had grown to more than $80,000 by 2016.

But by 2017 — three months after Brett DiBiase was hired at MDHS — the nonprofit raked in $271,000 in welfare money from  the agency. Brett DiBiase is also a former professional wrestler, and  it's unclear what qualifications, if any, he had to be a senior official at a state agency. His salary was $95,000 and he left the job after  seven months.

In 2017, when Heart of  David received $271,000 from the state, the group reported spending  nearly $60,000 on website design and maintenance, nearly $30,000 on  travel and $13,000 on advertising, among other expenses such as  wrestling events. DiBiase Sr. was paid more than $80,000 as president of the organization. 

Per federal guidelines,  block grants distributed through TANF are supposed to accomplish one of  four specific purposes: encouraging healthy families, promoting job  preparation and marriage, reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and  helping needy families.

As Heart of David  received its first infusion of cash from MDHS in 2017, filmmakers put  the finishing touches on "The Price of Fame" — a movie about Ted DiBiase Sr.'s struggles and religious awakening.

A trailer for the film said it was made in association with Heart of David Ministries, but the  producer and manager behind the film said the nonprofit was not  involved. Blanton said the agency has not found signs state funds were  used for the movie. 

"They say that the love of money is the root of all evil," Ted DiBiase Sr. says early in the film, clad in a tuxedo and brandishing a stack of $100 bills. "Hogwash — with enough of this, you can buy anything."