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DeSantis administration paid $615,000 to aviation company for migrant relocation

The company’s role in the program remains unclear.
Gov. Ron DeSantis reacts during a roundtable discussion at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami's Coral Way neighborhood on Feb. 7, 2022.
Gov. Ron DeSantis reacts during a roundtable discussion at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami's Coral Way neighborhood on Feb. 7, 2022. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
Published Sep. 16|Updated Sep. 16

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration last week paid an aviation company $615,000 as part of a new Florida program to relocate immigrants lacking permanent legal status out of the state, according to state records.

Records show the company, Vertol Systems Company Inc., was paid on Sept. 8. A week later, DeSantis took credit for sending a group of 48 migrants — most, if not all, from Venezuela — to Martha’s Vineyard, a summer island destination for the rich and powerful in Massachusetts.

Related: Migrants stranded in Martha's Vineyard say they were lied to

Vertol Systems’ website shows it is based in Hillsboro, Oregon, but has operations in Destin in Florida’s Panhandle.

The payment, which records say was for a “relocation program of unauthorized aliens,” was made by the Florida Department of Transportation, which earlier this year received $12 million to transport “unauthorized aliens from this state” to other parts of the country.

Related: DeSantis' defense of Martha's Vineyard flights prompts more questions

The company’s role in the program remains unclear. The state Department of Transportation and the company did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

At a news conference in Daytona Beach on Friday, DeSantis acknowledged for the first time that the migrants who were sent to Martha’s Vineyard were part of a “voluntary transportation they’re signing up for.”

He also suggested for the second time this week that the migrants were not transported from the state, a requirement that Florida lawmakers included in the state budget when they approved the publicly funded program to relocate migrants.

DeSantis told reporters that most of the migrants “are intending to come to Florida, they are coming to Florida, we’re taking them from Florida to sanctuary jurisdictions.”

“You gotta deal with it at the source,” DeSantis added.

Migrants who landed in Martha’s Vineyard said they had been in Texas before boarding the flight. An unidentified woman, a migrant said, offered to take them to a place where she promised they would be better served.

The woman suggested she was waiting to reach a certain quota of people to fill the plane’s seats so they could make the trip happen, according to a migrant interviewed by the Times/Herald.

Migrants were also given two maps inside a red folder that showed the U.S. map with a red line that linked Texas to Massachusetts. The Martha’s Vineyard map had a red dot in the middle.

Times/Herald Tallahassee reporter Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

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