Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Treasury Department Opens Probe Into Governor DeSantis' Use of Federal Funds to Fly Migrants From Texas to Martha’s Vineyard

Young Venezuelan woman holding child.
Photo: Vineyard Gazette - Ray Ewing | Columbia County Observer graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – As the scrutiny into Governor Ron DeSantis’ move to transport Venezuelan migrants to Martha's Vineyard mounts, legal actions and investigations into Mr. DeSantis are piling up. 

In addition to the Texas Sheriff's investigation into how the Venezuelans were lured onto a plane and a lawsuit filed against Mr. DeSantis and members of his administration by state Sen. Jason Pizzo, the U.S. Treasury Department Office of the Inspector General has also opened an investigation into whether Mr. DeSantis misused funds that were meant for relief for Floridians.

Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Kobie Christian said, "Families in Florida have real economic problems like skyrocketing property insurance and utility bills and hurricane recovery. Using women and children for political stunts is inappropriate."

The DeSantis administration’s claim is that it had sent the migrants as part of an effort to force Democratic states far from the border, such as Massachusetts, to share in the burden of dealing with the torrent of migrants who flood border states by the tens of thousands each month.

It is estimated that so far Florida's taxpayers have spent more than $1.5 million in plane fare.

Link to Vineyard GazetteThe on the ground report of the hometown Vineyard Gazette and the comments of Martha's Vineyard citizens shines a local light on the plight of the Venezuelan migrants.

Spectrum News Orlando reported:

• A federal watchdog is investigating whether the state of Florida improperly used coronavirus relief funds to fly migrants from Texas to Massachusetts last month to protest the Biden administration's immigration and border policies.

• The Governor's Office confirmed that the flights were paid for by the state of Florida and authorized by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

•The probe looks into whether or not DeSantis used funds earmarked for COVID-19 aid to pay for or facilitate the flights, according to a letter to lawmakers from Richard Delmar, the Deputy Inspector General of the Treasury Department.

See: Federal Watchdog Probes Florida Migrant Flights from Texas to Martha's Vineyard

Tallahassee Democrat reported on the inconsistencis of the Governor's relocation plan:

• When Gov. Ron DeSantis sent nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, last month, it appears to have gone against the program guidelines laid out in its bidding process, according to records obtained by the USA TODAY NETWORK - Florida.

• The program was designed “to relocate out of the State of Florida foreign nationals who are not lawfully present in the United States,” according to the documents released by the governor's office Friday evening after a public records request.

• The records include a "request for quotes" document that the state used to locate bidding companies to take on the program. It, too, states that the unauthorized immigrants transported should be in Florida.

• The budget Florida passed this year also says the money is meant for in-state immigrants, a point that already has become the subject of litigation.

• Soon after news broke of the Martha’s Vineyard flights, a Democratic Florida state senator filed suit to stop DeSantis from using more funds for the program.

That wasn’t the only legal fallout:

• A federal class action lawsuit was filed in Boston on behalf of the migrants that accused the DeSantis administration of deploying a "fraudulent and discriminatory scheme" to transport them.

• Sheriff Javier Salazar of Bexar County, Texas, announced his agency had opened an investigation into how 48 Venezuelan migrants were “lured” to board flights from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard.

• The governor’s office and FDOT did not respond to a Saturday morning media request.

• The in-state guidelines weren’t the only inconsistencies the USA TODAY NETWORK (Florida) found in the records.

• The price tag for the Massachusetts flights was initially put at $615,000, but the latest state records show that Florida paid another $950,000 to the Vertol Systems Company, a Destin, FL -based aviation firm, bringing the total spent by taxpayers so far to more than $1.5 million.

See: Inside the records, inconsistencies of DeSantis' Martha's Vineyard migrant relocation plan

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