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Florida company that has transported migrants donated money to Republicans and has ties to DeSantis' immigration czar


Vertol Systems was also represented by Matt Gaetz and his co-signer, who is now "Florida's public safety czar." Vertol received $615,000 last week and transported nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants.

By Marc CaputoNBC


The charter company hired by the Administration of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for its controversial program of moving migrants has contributed a lot of money to some of the governor's top allies and was once represented legally by Matt Gaetz and his law firm partner, who he is now Florida's "public safety czar" in charge of immigration policy.

The DeSantis Administration has refused to release a copy of the

$12 million contract

with Vertol Systems Company Inc. for its role in administering the "unauthorized alien" program -- which state Democrats tried to block with a lawsuit this Thursday -- nor will the governor's office comment on the nearly $1.6 million the company has received to send migrants to so-called "sanctuary" cities that host them.

Gaetz, who led DeSantis' transition team in 2018, declined to comment for this story, nor did the congressman's former legal partner -- current Florida Public Safety Coordinator Larry Keefe -- who represented DeSantis. Vertol in at least one civil lawsuit in 2017, according to court records in Okaloosa County, Florida.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign stop at the Keep Florida Free Tour at Horsepower Ranch in Geneva on August 24, 2022. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In Vertol's only known case of migrant relocation, the company received an initial amount of $615,000 last week and recruited nearly 50 homeless Venezuelan migrants seeking asylum in San Antonio, Texas, giving them food and at least one hotel night, then flew them to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, as part of DeSantis's effort to show the cost of illegal immigration.

The immigrants' attorneys say they were duped with false promises and are suing.

On Tuesday, the company planned to fly the migrants to a Delaware airport near President Joe Biden's summer home, but the flight was inexplicably scrapped after the state

gave Vertol another $950,000


Ron DeSantis faces class action lawsuit over sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard


21, 202200:37

But the state budget authorizing the program specifies that "unauthorized aliens" are supposed to be flown from "this state" of Florida -- not any other state -- and the Republicans who crafted the program this year publicly said that Venezuelans seeking asylum are not considered "unauthorized aliens" because they have permission to be in this country.

The DeSantis administration's refusal to provide public records on the contract contrasts with its promise to operate government with "the utmost transparency and accountability" before taking office in 2019, when it also said it would "drain the swamp" in Tallahassee and stop the "dominance" of special interests.

"The state is completely breaking the law.

They haven't provided one shred of evidence of how this is legal

," said state Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat who is leading the lawsuit to block payments to the company.

Congressman Matt Gaetz speaks during the CPAC Texas 2022 conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, TX on August 6, 2022. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

"I want to know who was asleep on the state side when someone said, 'We're going to go to San Antonio; we're going to spend our money there,' when they booked the La Quinta hotel in San Antonio. Who thought that was legal?" Pizzo said.

"I would like to know - and the public has a right to know - who negotiated this contract and what it says," he added.

When an NBC News reporter called Vertol Systems for comment, an operator hung up the phone.

Keefe, security coordinator for DeSantis and a former prosecutor for the Northern District of Florida, is involved in the program and made it clear when he was appointed that immigration was a top mandate.

[Investigation opened into sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts]

"As a former United States attorney, I saw illegal aliens get deported and come back, and then get deported and come back in an endless cycle," Keefe said

after DeSantis named him public safety "czar"

last year, according to the local newspaper Tallahassee Democrat.

"States, including Florida, bear the brunt of this cycle," he added.

Immigration has been a top concern for DeSantis, leading to the eventual ouster of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen earlier this year, according to three knowledgeable sources who spoke candidly after it was revealed. grant them anonymity.

[Texas Sheriff Opens Criminal Investigation Into Transfer Of Migrants To Martha's Vineyard]

The commissioner had repeatedly questioned DeSantis's desire to relocate migrants to other states and to use state police resources to track down so-called "ghost flights," in which federal authorities took unaccompanied minor migrants to immigration facilities. immigration in states like Florida without giving notice to state officials, the sources said.

Swearingen did not return calls or text messages for comment.

Vertol is based in the city of Destin, in the Gaetz congressional district, and near Keefe's hometown.

More than two million migrants have been detained at the US southern border in the last 11 months


21, 202200:51

State and federal campaign finance data shows Vertol

contributed $2,500

to the North Florida Neighbors super PAC that was backing Gaetz's first run for Congress in 2016.

The following year, Vertol contributed $15,000 to then-Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran's Watchdog PAC for his gubernatorial bid at a fundraiser organized by Gaetz.

Corcoran went on to be DeSantis' secretary of education.

A source familiar with the fundraising said the money was packaged by politically influential Panhandle promoter Jay Odom, who is the registered agent for an aviation company connected to Vertol, according to state business records.

California Governor Confirms Eight Migrants Arrived in Sacramento


21, 202200:48

Odom, who did not return a call for comment,

was convicted and jailed for six months

in 2013 for his role in an illegal campaign finance scheme linked to Republican Mike Huckabee's unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. 

Odom was arrested for another alleged crime - along with the speaker of the House of Representatives, Ray Sansom, in 2009 - in connection with state funds to build an airport hangar for him, but the two were acquitted at trial, according to an article from the local Northwest Florida Daily News about a political standoff between Odom and Gaetz.

Following DeSantis's election,

Vertol contributed another $10,000 in 2019 to the Florida Republican Party

, ultimately controlled by the governor.


will give about 200 million dollars to Mexico and Central America to alleviate the migration crisis]

And Vertol contributed another $1,000 in June to state Rep. Jay Trumbull Jr.'s campaign for Senate.

Trumbull, who is from Panama City near Vertol's base in Destin, could not be reached for comment.

His father, Jay Trumbull Sr., had been appointed by DeSantis to the Florida Transportation Commission, which oversees the Florida Department of Transportation, the agency in charge of the Vertol contract.

The elder Trumbull told The Intercept that he resigned from the commission in June.

[They will investigate if a Venezuelan received money to convince his compatriots to go to Massachusetts]

Aside from the pending lawsuit by Florida Democrats, and the separate lawsuit against DeSantis from the migrants who flew to Martha's Vineyard, the Democratic Texas sheriff representing the San Antonio area has vowed to investigate the Florida program in his jurisdiction and He said

there was evidence of fraud.

DeSantis has denied any wrongdoing, has asked President Joe Biden to reauthorize the restrictive immigration policies of former President Donald Trump and has promised this Tuesday that the state will continue with the program because the nation is once again discussing the southern border.

"It's not just about the flights," DeSantis said.

On Board Insects: An Exhibition Reflects on the Dangerous Migrant Journey to the US

July 22, 202201:08

"We have land, we have other things that we can do. And I will tell you that it has already had more impact than anyone thought it could have. But we are going to continue to have more impact," he added.

"What we are doing

is not the ultimate solution

," he continued.

He added: "I think it's opening people's eyes to the solution, which is: Let's have a secure border. Let's stay in Mexico. Let's take the cartels seriously. And let's get on the agenda here. What they've been doing for a year. and a half or more is basically ignoring that the problem exists.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-09-23

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