TALLAHASSEE — After weeks of delays, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration on Thursday evening released heavily redacted procurement documents that offer virtually no detail on how three companies plan to carry out a controversial migrant relocation program that is already underway.
The documents — obtained from the Division of Emergency Management as part of a public records request after the Miami Herald threatened to file suit — show that GardaWorld Federal Services, Vertol Systems Co. and ARS Global Emergency Management submitted their proposals in April and blacked out huge chunks of information from their proposals, claiming “confidential trade secret information.”
One of the few details that each company disclosed was how much they intended to charge the state for the “development phase of the program,” which is funded at $12 million.
GardaWorld Federal Services, an armored truck and logistics company that has been investigated for safety violations, said it would charge $100 per hour; ARS Global Emergency Management said its price was $150 per hour and Vertol Systems said its price was a $487,000 lump sum.
Vertol Systems — the company that was hand-picked by the DeSantis administration last fall to fly 49 migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts — is the only company that has been linked to the latest round of migrant flights that recently arrived in California.
California has initiated criminal and civil investigations into the handling of the flights, saying that migrants were deceived when they were recruited to board planes that landed in Sacramento.
DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, on Thursday defended sending roughly 30 migrants to California, saying it has “incentivized” illegal immigration and should have no problem taking them in. DeSantis has made immigration a major theme in his campaign.
Since the relocation program’s inception, DeSantis and his administration have been secretive about its inner workings and have refused to publicly disclose many aspects of its covert operation. The documents released on Thursday are a continuation of the lack of transparency surrounding the program.
For instance, the proposal ARS Global Emergency Management submitted to the Division of Emergency Management for consideration was heavily redacted. Among the sections that have been shielded from the public are the company’s experience, its references, how it plans to carry out the work, details about how reliable it would be and how it would provide “customer service” to the Division of Emergency Management.
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Even the name of the person who submitted the proposal on behalf of the company was redacted, claiming a “trade secret” exemption.
In response to questions about the redactions, Alecia Collins, a spokesperson for the Division of Emergency Management, said it is up to the vendors to determine which portions of the documents and information they submit they deem “confidential, proprietary, trade secret, or otherwise not subject to disclosure” pursuant to Florida’s public records laws.
Martha’s Vineyard flights execution cited in one proposal
Vertol Systems’ proposal, submitted by owner James Montgomerie, was also heavily redacted. Notably, it did not shield information about its past work relocating migrants for the state. In the proposal, Montgomerie said the company was paid $1.3 million for the Martha’s Vineyard flights last September and used that as an example of why the company should be hired again.
“Successfully contacted, selected, vetted, housed and transported migrants to a migration support center in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Conducted multiple additional site surveys and location developments,” the proposal said.
It did not mention — or at least the redacted portions of the document did not show — that the company’s handling of the Martha’s Vineyard flights has led to several lawsuits, investigations and even a revision of state law, after the state was sued and accused of breaking laws.
At the time, Florida law gave the governor the authority to move migrants from Florida to other parts of the country. But Vertol’s flight originated from Texas. In the face of the lawsuit, the Legislature amended the state law to allow DeSantis to move migrants anywhere in the United States, and it moved the program from the Florida Department of Transportation to the Division of Emergency Management.
The documents released Thursday do not show how much the Division of Emergency Management paid Vertol Systems to execute the two flights to California this week.
The documents did show that seven other companies submitted proposals to help the state carry out the migrant relocation program. They include G.G. Procurement Solutions, Hagerty Consulting Inc., Air Flight Charters, PAL Services, Quality 2 Transport, SLSCO LTD and Greenlight Group LLC.
Many of those proposals were also heavily redacted. Greenlight’s proposal was completely redacted.
Air Flight Charters wrote in its proposal that it would treat the program with “the tactful diplomacy that will be required.”
“Dropping a bunch of passengers off all at once, in one or two locations, gives the impression of moving people like cattle … I promise you that this is not the best image to present,” the proposal said.
When the Division of Emergency Management requested proposals, it said it was looking for vendors to abide by certain “truths.”
Among them that “the migrant and refugee issues are not going away” and that “a small percentage of these migrants are criminals and malicious actors from foreign entities. They should be identified, apprehended and delivered to law enforcement.”
The state agency added that “human beings should be treated with compassion and dignity.”