Florida recordings raise new questions about DeSantis migrant flights

In the tender to round up migrants to be transported across the country, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R)’s administration was unequivocal: The winning contractor was to airlift unauthorized newcomers found in the state.

The parameters, set by the Florida Department of Transportation and disclosed in public filings released by the state Friday night, raise new questions about whether the program violated state protocols when DeSantis officials chartered two planes to ferry 48 migrants from San Antonio – away from the Florida coast – to Massachusetts last month.

The widely criticized policy maneuver appears to operate outside the confines of the $12 million program that Florida lawmakers authorized in their budget in June to “facilitate the transportation of unauthorized aliens from this state.”

Vertol Systems, the Oregon-based charter airline, flew the group of Venezuelans, some of whom said they were lured onto the flights with promises of work and housing, to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of the Massachusetts coast known as politically liberal. leaning community.

The Sept. 14 flights began in San Antonio and first landed in Crestview, Fla., a Panhandle town 36 miles north of Vertol’s Florida headquarters in Destin. After a brief stop, they drove to Martha’s Vineyard later that day.

Florida officials did not provide an official explanation for the shutdown at Crestview, which raised speculation about whether it was meant to give the impression that the mission had a plausible connection to the state. as the rules of the program had established.

The information released Friday does not include the full contract the DeSantis administration awarded Vertol. But records show the state paid the company $615,000 for the flights from Texas on September 8 and another $950,000 on September 19, apparently for another flight carrying migrants to the president’s home state. Biden, Delaware, which was overruled.

DeSantis said the flights were designed to send a message to Democrats, who he said resisted efforts to resolve the country’s border crisis. “Most of them are planning to come to Florida,” he said at a news conference in Dayton Beach, Florida, two days after the Texas flight. “Our view is that you have to deal with it at the source.”

Examination intensifies over DeSantis’ use of public funds for migrant thefts

The relocation program was launched in July, when Rebekah Davis, general counsel for the Florida Department of Transportation, issued a request for quotes from interested transportation companies.

The Department of Transportation sought a company to “implement and administer a relocation program out of the State of Florida for foreign nationals who are not legally present in the United States,” according to the request for quotes in the files recently. published. The winner would transport by land or air “unauthorized aliens who are in Florida and have agreed to be relocated” elsewhere in the United States and the District of Columbia.

The plans also required the contractor to work with a host of Florida agencies, including the Florida Department of Corrections, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Nowhere in the tenders was there any mention of recruiting migrants from Texas or San Antonio. Other cities were mentioned as possible destinations.

Vertol managing director James Montgomerie gave Davis quotes in an email for possible charter flights on a King Air 350 turboprop from Crestview to Boston (at a cost of $35,000) and from Crestview to Los Angeles (at a cost of $60,000) for between four and eight people, a sign that the state was interested in these potential destinations for migrant flights. The subject line of Davis’ email to Montgomerie was “Florida Charter Flights.”

The migrant thefts are the subject of a criminal investigation in Texas and a civil lawsuit by several asylum seekers who claim the DeSantis administration deceived them.

State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a South Florida Democrat, who filed the lawsuit as a private citizen seeking an injunction, alleges the program violates state law, in part because migrants were not transferred from Florida.

“Oops, the five people who looked at this missed it — or they’ll have to pretend the seller went rogue” flying the migrants from Texas, Pizzo said in an interview. “It was pretty clear with a simple reading of the law what was supposed to happen.”

When asked to comment on Saturday, the governor’s director of communications, Taryn Fenske, did not respond to questions about whether the DeSantis administration may have violated state guidelines with the flights of the Texas. “We are focused exclusively on Hurricane Ian relief and recovery. I’m with Floridians right now,” Fenske said.

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