Florida migrant-moving company gave GOP cash, has ties to DeSantis' immigration 'czar' and Rep. Matt Gaetz

Florida migrant-moving company gave GOP cash, has ties to DeSantis' immigration 'czar' and Rep. Matt Gaetz

The charter co. DeSantis used to fly migrants has contributed to his allies and has ties to Matt Gaetz and the state's “czar” in charge of immigration policy.


The air charter company Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration hired for his migrant-moving program has contributed big money to some top allies of the governor 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’ 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 sought to block with a lawsuit 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 welcome immigrants.

Gaetz, who managed DeSantis' transition team in 2018, would not comment for this article, nor would his former law partner, Florida’s public safety coordinator Larry Keefe, who represented Vertol in at least one civil lawsuit in 2017, according to court records from Okaloosa County, Florida.

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In Vertol's only known case of relocating migrants, the company received an initial $615,000 last week and recruited almost 50 destitute asylum-seeking Venezuelan migrants in San Antonio, gave them food and at least one night’s hotel stay, and then flew them to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, as part of DeSantis’ effort to highlight the toll of illegal immigration. Lawyers for the migrants say they were tricked by false promises and are suing.

On Tuesday, the company was planning to fly migrants to a Delaware airport near President Joe Biden’s beach home, but the flight was inexplicably scrapped after the state gave Vertol another $950,000.

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 Republicans who crafted the program this year said publicly that Venezuelans seeking asylum are not considered “unauthorized aliens” because they're allowed to be in this country.

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

“The state is completely violating the law. They haven’t provided any scintilla of evidence for 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?” Pizzo said. “I would like to know — and the public has the 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.

Keefe, DeSantis’ safety coordinator and a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, is involved with the program and made clear when he was appointed that immigration was a top mandate.