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Florida Immigrant Moving Company Gave Money To GOP, Has Ties To DeSantis Immigration ‘Czar’ And Rep. Matt Gaetz

The charter flight company Gob. The Ron DeSantis administration hired for its controversial immigrant movers program has contributed a lot of money to some of the governor’s top allies and was once legally represented by Rep. Matt Gaetz and his former partner, who is now Florida’s “public safety czar” in charge of immigration policy.

DeSantis management has refused to release a copy of the $12 million contract with Vertol Systems Company Inc. for its role in the administration of the “unauthorized alien” program which state do Democrats want to block with a lawsuit on Thursday nor will the governor’s office comment on the almost 1.6 million dollars that the company has received to send immigrants to so-called “sanctuary” cities that welcome immigrants.

Gaetz, who managed DeSantis’s transition team in 2018, did not comment for this story, nor did the congressman’s former law partner — the current Florida public. security coordinator Larry Keefe — who represented Vertol in at least one civil lawsuit in 2017, according to court records from Okaloosa County, Florida.

In Vertol’s only known case of migrant relocation, the company received an initial $615,000 last week and recruited nearly 50 destitute Venezuelan migrants seeking asylum in San Antonio, Texas, giving them food and at least one night’s hotel stay. , and then took them to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, as part of DeSantis’ effort to highlight 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 immigrants to a Delaware airport near President Joe Biden’s beach home, but the flight was inexplicably canceled after the state gave Vertol another $950,000.

But the state budget authorizing the program specifies that “unauthorized aliens” are supposed to fly from “this state” of Florida, not any other state, and the Republicans who crafted the program this year said in public that Venezuelans seeking asylum are not considered “unauthorized aliens” because they are allowed to be in this country.

The DeSantis administration’s refusal to provide public records on the contract contrasts with its commitment to operating the government with “maximum transparency and accountability” before taking office in 2019, when he also said he would “empty the swamp” in Tallahassee and stop the “rule” of special interests.

“The state is completely breaking the law. They haven’t provided any proof of how this is legal,” said state Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat who is leading the lawsuit to block payments to the company.

“I want to know who was asleep at the switch on the state side when someone said, ‘Let’s go to San Antonio; let’s spend our money there’, when they booked the La Quinta hotel in San Antonio. Who thought that was legal? Pizza said. “I would like to know, and the public has a right to know, who negotiated this contract and what it says.”

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

Keefe, the security coordinator for DeSantis and a former US attorney 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.

“As a former federal 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 dubbed him the “czar” of public safety last year, according to the Democrat. from Tallahassee. “The states, including Florida, are the most affected by this cycle.”

Immigration has been a top concern for DeSantis and led to the eventual ouster of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen earlier this year, according to three informed sources who spoke candidly after it was reported. grant them anonymity. The commissioner had repeatedly questioned DeSantis’ desire to relocate migrants to other states and use state police resources to track down the so-called “ghost flights.” in which federal authorities took unaccompanied minor immigrants to immigration facilities in states like Florida without notifying state officials, the sources said. Swearingen did not return calls or text messages for comment.

Vertol is based in the Florida Panhandle city of Destin in the Gaetz congressional district and also near Keefe’s hometown.

State and federal campaign finance data shows Vertol contributed $2,500 to North Florida Neighbors big cap endorsing 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 run at a fundraiser hosted by Gaetz . Corcoran went on to serve as DeSantis’ secretary of education.

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

Odom, who did not return a call for comment, was convicted and jailed for six months in 2013 for his role in a illegal campaign finance scheme linked to the unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Odom was arrested on another felony charge, along with House Speaker Ray Sansom in 2009, for state funds to build him an airport hangar, but the two men were acquitted at trial, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. Article about a political clash between Odom and Gaetz.

After DeSantis was elected, Vertol in 2019 contributed another $10,000 to the Florida Republican Party, which is ultimately controlled by the governor.

And Vertol contributed another $1,000 in June to state Rep. Jay Trumbull Jr.’s state Senate campaign. Trumbull, who hails from Panama City near Vertol’s Destin home base, 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. Elder Trumbull said the interception he resigned from the commission in June.

In addition to the pending lawsuit by Florida Democrats and the separate lawsuit against DeSantis from the migrants he brought to Martha’s Vineyard, the Democratic Texas sheriff representing the San Antonio area has vowed to investigate the Florida program in his jurisdiction, saying that there was evidence of fraud. DeSantis has denied any wrongdoing, called on President Joe Biden to reauthorize former President Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration policies and promised Tuesday that the state would continue the program because the nation is once again discussing the southern border.

“It’s not just flights, you know,” he said. “We’ve got land, we’ve got other things we can do. And I’ll tell you this, it’s already had more of an impact than anyone thought it could. But we’re going to continue to have more of an impact.” ”

“What we are doing is not the ultimate solution,” he continued. “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 the show in here. What they’ve been doing for a year and a helped or more than that is basically ignoring that the problem exists.”

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