DeSantis migrant flights could last until June, records show – Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE — Vertol Systems has until the end of next June to scour the $12 million approved by the Legislature for what critics called a “political stunt” — relocating as many migrants as possible from Florida to other states and the District of Columbia, records released late Friday show.

The RFP, vendor quotes, emails and other related documents show that Destin-based Vertol Systems beat out two other vendors for the deal, which has so far resulted in the sending 48 migrants on two planes to Martha’s Vineyard and a seemingly abandoned flight. in Delaware.

The information was released after a public records request made last month by the Orlando Sentinel.

Although records from the Governor’s Office and the Department of Transportation do not include a contract with Vertol Systems, they do provide an RFQ and project guidelines that outline the vendor’s duties and responsibilities. Plans include identifying and relocating people out of Florida with the help of state and local law enforcement.

They also provide memos from Vertol Systems to DOT officials showing how the company increased the cost of transporting migrants from $220,000 for up to 48 people from Crestview, Florida to Boston, Massachusetts, to 615 $000 for up to 50 people, mostly Venezuelans, who were airlifted from San Antonio, Texas.

The final cost for this would have been $12,300 per migrant.

People were not rounded up or expelled from Florida, as required by the scope of the project. Vertol Systems also failed to coordinate with state and local law enforcement to identify individuals who were illegally in Florida.

They were recruited from the field in San Antonio by people working for Vertol Systems, one of whom was a former military intelligence officer whom the New York Times identified as Perla Huerta from Tampa, whom no one managed to contact. The League of Latin American Citizens offered a $10,000 reward for any information leading to her location, arrest and prosecution.

Vertol received $615,000 on September 8 for the first two flights, which on September 14 originated from San Antonio, a hub for migrants seeking asylum and other federal assistance to enter the United States legally.

Both planes landed at Crestview in the Florida Panhandle briefly before finally arriving at Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Their arrival sparked a firestorm of criticism, which accused Gov. Ron DeSantis of human trafficking and breaking the law that only allowed him to return migrants from Florida to other states. DeSantis defended his actions, saying he was trying to get so-called “sanctuary states” to share the burden of migrants crossing the southern border.

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State Senator Jason Pizzo sued the governor, alleging the program violates state law because the migrants weren’t being moved from Florida. The budget wording allocating the $12 million said so for “the transportation of unauthorized aliens from this state in accordance with federal law.”

Another flight was scheduled to depart San Antonio for an airport near President Biden’s vacation home in Delaware on Sept. 20, according to flight records, but it was apparently canceled after the San Antonio sheriff launched a criminal investigation into the thefts. Vertol Systems received another advance payment of $950,000 on September 19, presumably for this flight.

The governor’s office did not respond to an email Friday night asking when the next flight was scheduled.

Asked why the relocation program was not getting migrants out of Florida, DeSantis told a press conference in September that so few migrants were coming to Florida, his administration had to go to other states. to find people who might want to come here.

“If I could do it all in Florida, I would,” he said. “But if we just ignore the source, we’re going to have people coming in five, ten a day…and there’s no way to track any of that because it’s on such a small scale.”

There are many places in Florida where illegal immigrant migrants live and work in large numbers, said Neil Rambana, a Tallahassee immigration attorney who specializes in deportation cases. They work in construction, hotels and restaurants, pick crops of tomatoes, sugar cane and oranges, and even work in hurricane restoration and debris removal.

“He could have gone anywhere from Pensacola to Key West,” Rambana said. “It’s everywhere.”