The transportation service company that the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, used to arrange flights for migrants to Martha’s Vineyard has contributed money to the governor’s top allies and has connections to a Florida official in charge of its immigration policy.
Vertol Systems Inc, an Oregon-based aviation company that DeSantis used to fly asylum seekers to the affluent, liberal-leaning Massachusetts island, has connections to DeSantis’s political allies and has donated money to various campaigns, NBC News reported.
The company once had legal representation from the Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, who was previously part of DeSantis’ transition team when he became governor, and Gaetz’s former law partner, Larry Keefe, who now works as the state’s “public safety tsar” and carries out the controversial relocation program, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Keefe has previously represented Vertol in dozens of lawsuits between 2010 and 2017, the Times also reported.
Florida state representative Jay Trumbull Jr, a Republican involved in obtaining funding for the relocation program as appropriations committee chair, received a $1,000 donation from Vertol during his campaign for Florida state senate this year, reported the Intercept.
The company also donated over $12,000 in total to various Florida political campaigns, including $2,500 to a Super Pac that supported Gaetz.
DeSantis’ administration has continually refused to release information on money it has given Vertol for its role in relocating asylum seekers.
So far, the company was awarded a $12m contract and has received more than $1m from Florida to fly asylum seekers to Democrat-led northern cities, reported NBC News, including migrants who are located in other states.
Public records have confirmed that Florida paid Vertol $615,000 last week to recruit about 50 Venezuelan migrants in Texas and fly them to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, with authorities noting that many migrants were tricked into going under the guise of receiving relocation resources like cash assistance and job training, when no arrangement had been made with the island.
The chartered flights are currently the subject of a criminal investigation in Texas as well as a civil suit from the asylum seekers themselves who say they were deceived into going.
The company was had also been expected to fly another group of asylum seekers on Tuesday to an airport located near Joe Biden’s beach house in Delaware, but the charter flight never arrived, though Florida gave Vertol an additional $950,000.
As a result, 20 migrants who were hoping to travel to the state were left stranded in San Antonio, reported the Miami Herald, with a source familiar with the governor’s thinking telling NBC News that the governor purposely left people in the dark about the flight’s plans.
DeSantis’ administration has not released details of the contract it awarded to Vertol, or disclosed why Vertol was selected to conduct the relocation program, or answered inquiries as to whether multiple bids were solicited in regards to the program, as is required by law, reported the Times.
While DeSantis has defended the program, his administration has faced intense criticism that they did not have budget authority to fly asylum seekers, reports Politico, and Florida lawmakers have questioned whether the flights were legal.
Lawyers representing the migrants have also argued that their clients are not “unauthorized aliens”, but are asylum seekers, which is a distinct, legal category.