MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass. — Nearly a month after public records requests were submitted for any and all documented material about Florida’s controversial migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard last month, the Gov. Ron DeSantis' public records office and Florida’s Department of Transportation (FDOT) made dozens of records public.
The records, which still don’t include detailed contracts, spell out guidelines for the governor’s controversial migrant relocation program and include quotes from three companies who, over the summer, made a play for the gig.
According to the state’s requests for quotes, the state sought services from a “transportation management company to implement and manage a program to relocate out of the state of Florida foreign nationals who are not lawfully present in the United States.”
But that’s not what happened last month when two flights picked up nearly 50 asylum-seeking Venezuelans in Texas and then brought them to Martha’s Vineyard on Florida’s dime.
Records show the flight made a brief stop in Crestview, FL, on the way to Martha’s Vineyard, but none of the passengers got off the plane.
“We take what’s going at the southern border very seriously,” said DeSantis, shortly after news of the flights swiftly attracted international attention.
DeSantis wasted no time taking credit for the flights and even revealed his plan to pay for more as a way to open America’s eyes to the border crisis.
“I got $12 million for us to use, and we’re going to use it, and you’re going to see more and more. I’m going to make sure that we exhaust all those funds,” said DeSantis, who continues to double down on the use of $12 million in state funds from interest earned on pandemic relief dollars for the state’s new migrant relocation program.
DeSantis said the program is his way of combating what he’s described as Biden’s border crisis.
State records also now confirm Vertol Systems Inc, an aviation company based in Destin, provided the chartered flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
About a week before the flights, Vertol’s CEO, James Montgomerie, sent a memo to FDOT detailing his offer for “the ongoing delivery of these services… on an ongoing month-to-month basis.”
In the memo, Montgomerie added, this “first project shall involve the facilitation of the relocation of up to fifty individuals to the state of Massachusetts or other proximate northeastern state designated by FDOT.”
Vertol’s price for project one— $615,000. Two days later, Florida paid Vertol that exact amount. The company has received another $950,000, though it’s unclear for what since additional records have yet to be made public.
“If you draft your own law and can’t follow it within a few months, that’s a problem,” said Florida State Senator Jason Pizzo of Miami in response to the records.
Last month, Pizzo filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, asking a Judge to ban the administration from using state money to relocate migrants who aren’t even in Florida.
When asked if these recently released state documents prove the administration went outside the scope of its own rules, Pizzo responded, “I think it's pretty clear that someone went back and read what the actual law was, after all of the attention, and will have a difficult time trying to explain their way out of it,” he said.
As for Vertol Systems Inc, its website was taken down after the flights made national headlines. Its CEO, James Montgomerie, has not answered our calls or responded to our multiple messages.
For now, Montgomerie’s only public comments on the flights stem from state records, which primarily discuss money and logistics but end like this, “We welcome the opportunity to support your mission.”
On Monday, the Florida Center for Accountability filed a lawsuit in Leon County alleging the governor’s office did not comply with requests to release all records pertaining to these flights. The governor’s office has said this is the first production of records.
This article was written by Katie LaGrone for WFTS.