DeSantis migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard appear outside scope of Florida transportation program guidelines, state documents show
A pair of flights carrying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last month, orchestrated by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, may have exceeded the original scope of the state’s plan to transport undocumented immigrants, according to records obtained by CNN. .
Records show that in the months leading up to those flights, Florida had planned a narrower mission for a controversial new state program to ferry migrants to other states. The goal, according to a call to contractors and program guidelines, was to “relocate foreign nationals who are not legally present in the United States out of the state of Florida.”
But that’s not what happened. On September 14, two planes picked up 48 migrants in San Antonio – not Florida – and dropped them off at Martha’s Vineyard.
The documents, provided to CNN through a request for documents and released Friday night by the Florida Department of Transportation and the governor’s office, offer new details about the stunt that pushed DeSantis even deeper amid a national debate on immigration. From the White House to Florida, Massachusetts and beyond, condemnation from Democrats has been swift. So has the praise from Republicans for DeSantis, who has only strengthened his standing in his party as he plans to run for president in 2024.
A Democratic state lawmaker is already suing the state and asking a judge to stop future thefts, arguing that the DeSantis administration was spending taxpayers’ money illegally. The budget bill that created the $12 million program specified that the money was set aside to relocate “unauthorized aliens from this state.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For the first time, the records also directly link a $615,000 payment made by the state to Vertol Systems Company for September flights that sent migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard. Previously, the payment to Vertol had been disclosed by the state, but the governor’s office for weeks refused to confirm that the check was related to flights that landed in Massachusetts.
The Florida Department of Transportation, the agency tasked with running the new migrant relocation program, received a quote from Vertol CEO James Montgomerie on Sept. 6 for “the first project,” according to a document. Montgomerie identified this project as “facilitating the resettlement of up to fifty people in the state of Massachusetts or another nearby state to the northeast.” The price, he said, was $615,000.
The next day, FDOT officials sent a letter requesting authorization for the $615,000 and the state made the payment within 24 hours, according to financial statements posted on Florida’s CFO website previously reported. by CNN.
In communications with the FDOT earlier this summer, Montgomerie offered to state departments to suggest a considerably less ambitious mission for the migrant relocation program.
On July 26, after a discussion with the FDOT’s general counsel, Montgomerie gave the agency estimates for his company to charter flights that could carry four to 12 people from Crestview, Florida, to the Boston or Los Angeles, according to an email from Vertol. executive at FDOT.
“We are certainly willing to provide you with pricing information on specific ad hoc requirements on a case-by-case basis,” Montgomerie wrote in the email.
The prices listed for flights from Florida are more closely aligned with the FDOT’s guidelines for the program it sent to potential contractors and the agency’s request for quote. In the three-page guidelines, the FDOT stated that the chosen company must ensure “that the unauthorized alien has voluntarily agreed to be relocated out of Florida.” The quotes also showed that Montgomerie anticipated early on that Vertol would move fewer people. Later, in September, his quotes evolved to include many more people on board.
Eventually, planes that left San Antonio briefly landed in Crestview before finally landing in Massachusetts.
At the time of the state contractors request, DeSantis was publicly claiming that President Joe Biden could send migrant buses from the US-Mexico border to Florida. But DeSantis acknowledged last month that those buses never arrived, and his attention began shifting hundreds of miles to Texas.
DeSantis said the intention of running the flights from Texas was to stop the flow of migrants at the source before they arrive in Florida.
“If you can do it at the source and divert to sanctuary jurisdictions, the chances of them ending up in Florida are much less,” DeSantis told reporters in September.
DeSantis pledged to use “every penny” of the $12 million allocated to his administration for transporting migrants. However, the state has not publicly awarded itself any transportation since the two planes landed at Martha’s Vineyard.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, the lawmaker now suing DeSantis, said the governor couldn’t choose to ignore the law when spending state money.
“You can’t even play by your own rules,” Pizzo told CNN last month of DeSantis. “It’s not something we adopted 12 years ago. This was done four months ago at your request.
DeSantis’ office previously said Pizzo’s lawsuit was an attempt at “15 minutes of fame.”
The state has paid Vertol $1.6 million so far through its Migrant Program, which is funded by interest earned on federal coronavirus relief money, budget documents show. the state. The initial payment of $615,000 was made by the FDOT on September 8, six days before the flight from Martha’s Vineyard. Another payment of $950,000 followed on September 16, although it is unclear what this payment was for.
Days after that second payment, reports of a similar flight plan from San Antonio to Delaware, Biden’s home state, sent officials there rushing to prepare for migrant arrivals. The flights, however, never arrived.
The state did not provide a contract with Vertol in the files released Friday evening. The documents also do not offer additional information about why Vertol was chosen over two other companies that appeared to submit quotes to the state, according to the records.
CNN has reached out to Montgomerie for further comment.
Vertol had an existing connection to a DeSantis administration official prior to his work with the state. Lawrence Keefe, Florida’s “public safety czar” appointed by DeSantis to lead the state’s crackdown on illegal immigration, represented the airline from 2010 to 2017.
In its quote to the state, Vertol said it would provide “project management, aircraft, crew, maintenance logistics, fuel, coordination and planning, route preparation, route services, landing fees, ground handling and logistics and other project-related expenses,” according to the documents.
The state’s RFQ also called for potential contractors to have “multilingual capability for Spanish.” The chosen contractor should also develop procedures to “confirm with partner agencies that the person to be transported is an unauthorized alien”. Pizzo and others questioned whether migrants are considered “unauthorized” by the federal government if they legally seek asylum.