It’s been one of the most enduring mysteries of the last month in Tallahassee: Who’s the drug dealer who owned the plane Gov. Ron DeSantis is flying around on?
After more than five weeks of wondering, here’s your answer: The governor is not flying around on a drug dealer’s plane seized by state police.
That doesn’t mean its story is any less mysterious, though.
The real story behind the plane is that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement bought it from the federal government at surplus for $10,000 in 2016.
Since then, it’s been used for various law enforcement missions, and it once took former Gov. Rick Scott to Puerto Rico, according to the FDLE.
The plane received scant attention until Jan. 7, when DeSantis, on the eve of his inauguration, told reporters how he planned to get around the state. He had been left in the lurch by his predecessor. When Scott became governor in 2011, he sold off the state’s fleet. Scott, a multi-multi-millionaire, could get around fine on his own plane.
So how then was DeSantis flying around now that he was governor? “FDLE does have a plane that was seized, a drug seizure, that’s been upgraded,” DeSantis told reporters last month.
Since then, it’s been the butt of jokes, and served as justification to buy the governor a new plane.
After the plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Tampa Bay with DeSantis and the attorney general aboard in early January, the Florida Senate’s budget chairman called it “ridiculous.” An air leak around the door seal had caused the air pressure warning light to come on and masks to drop down from the ceiling, according to FDLE.
But until Wednesday, no one had provided details about where the plane came from or who it had once belonged to.
Why DeSantis says it’s a drug-seized plane is another mystery. His spokespeople won’t say, instead referring a reporter to statements made Wednesday by FDLE.
Online records from FlightAware show that the plane’s most recent owner was not the federal government, but a Tallahassee entity called J&D Petroleum Co.
That company appears to exist nowhere. It’s not a registered corporation with Florida’s Secretary of State, and its address is in a mailbox store that’s been shut down -- about 11 minutes away from Florida’s Capitol.
A very similar company — J and D Petroleum Co., also not registered with the state — uses the same nondescript address.
That company owns two small Cessna airplanes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, yet it owes Florida’s Department of Revenue nearly $230,000 in unpaid taxes, according to a list of delinquent taxpayers.
Before that, the plane was owned by U.S. Special Operations Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, according to FlightAware, and before that, a few out-of-state companies.
Since FDLE bought it, about $600,000 has been spent upgrading its engines and interior.
FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen used it to fly to Fort Lauderdale in 2017 after a gunman killed five people at the airport, according to FDLE. Scott took it to Puerto Rico after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria because it was determined that his personal plane couldn’t land at the airport there, according to FDLE.
And when a child from Polk County went missing in 2016, FDLE used the plane to pick her up in Tennessee, according to the department.
Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Howard Altman contributed to this report.