TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida has paid nearly $1 million to arrange two sets of flights to transport about 100 migrants who entered the country illegally to Delaware and Illinois, according to documents released Friday by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The flights would be a follow-up to the Sept. 14 flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard that carried 49 mostly Venezuelan migrants to the Massachusetts island where former President Barack Obama owns a mansion. Local officials weren’t told in advance that the migrants were coming.
Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed responsibility for the flights as part of a campaign to focus attention on what he has called the Biden administration’s failed border policies. He was joining Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the tactic of sending migrants to Democratic strongholds without advance warning,
The two additional sets of flights originally were scheduled for some time before Oct. 3 but apparently were halted or postponed. The contractor hired by Florida later extended the window for the trips until Dec. 1, according to memos released by the state Department of Transportation.
Vertol Systems Company of Destin, Florida, was hired to organize the flights and sent an employee to the state capital of Tallahassee to pick up a hard copy of a $950,000 check after the state didn’t receive paperwork for a direct deposit to the company’s account, according to the documents.
Vertol owner James Montgomerie didn’t answer a phone call and email seeking comments about the flight plans. DeSantis’ office didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Earlier this year the Legislature approved a $12 million budget item to relocate people in the country illegally from Florida to another location. The money came from interest earned from federal funds given to Florida under the American Rescue Plan. While the migrant flights originated in Texas, the charter plane carrying them made a stop in Florida. DeSantis has said that the migrants intention was to come to Florida.
The documents released Friday gave no details of how migrants were recruited in San Antonio for the Martha Vineyard flights nor who was hired to conduct that part of the operation.
Also Friday, A Texas sheriff certified that the 49 migrants flown Martha’s Vineyard last month to be crime victims, a move that allows them to apply for special visas to remain in the United States. The sheriff said an investigation has been opened.
The Martha’s Vineyard flight has also spawned lawsuits accusing Florida of lying to the migrants to get them to agree to the flights.
Brendan Farrington, The Associated Press