GOP-Friendly Jet Company Makes Big Money From Immigrant Flights to Florida Guv Ron DeSantis
GOP-Friendly Jet Company Makes Big Money From Immigrant Flights to Florida Guv Ron DeSantis

GOP-Friendly Jet Company Makes Big Money From Immigrant Flights to Florida Guv Ron DeSantis

When Florida taxpayers shelled out $615,000 last week to charter a plane to fly 48 Venezuelan immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, they paid a premium for a service that lined the pockets of Florida GOP donors.

Vertol Systems, Inc., founded in Oregon but with ties to the Florida Panhandle, was the company hired for the gig. They shelled out more than $12,000 per arrival to transport the team from San Antonio, Texas, to Massachusetts, with stops in Florida and South Carolina.

Vertol’s president, James Montgomerie, has donated heavily to GOP causes both personally and through his Florida company, campaign finance records show. That includes donations to the Florida legislature’s appropriations chief, his father, and the state Republican Party.

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Specifically, Montgomerie sent $2,700 to Matt Gaetz in 2016, as well as $5,000 to a super PAC called North Florida Neighbors in 2017, which was organized to support Gaetz. Federal records show contributions also made by the PAC to Vertol itself, with the company’s name sitting on $7,500 in donations between 2016 and 2017.

Although millions of dollars are diverted to Florida politics each year, the donations may shed light on why Vertol was chosen to carry out last week’s migrant flights — and why Florida appeared willing to pay more than double market value for the charter service. do so.

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The Daily Beast obtained a quote for the chartered flight between San Antonio and Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, which was carrying 60 people on the Thursday afternoon flight. The estimate, obtained from a charter flight cost aggregator website, produced estimates ranging from $95,536 to $260,214 to fly 60 people on a daily non-stop basis with various services, such as in-flight entertainment and flight attendants. .

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Rena Davenport, a sales associate at Exquisite Air Charter, said in an email that major airlines can vary greatly in the price of charter flights, and that final price details are often discussed over the phone. However, the cost of an inbound flight to Florida is still more than double the market price of the most expensive domestic charter flight.

DeSantis’ office did not return a call or respond to an email with questions about how the state selected Vertol as a charter flight vendor.

Venezuelan migrants gather at a ferry to head to Joint Base Cape Cod after being dumped on Martha’s Vineyard in Florida.

Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty

The $615,000 paid by Florida is a small portion of the $12 million in funding that Florida has earmarked for its immigrant relocation program this year. The funding comes from interest earned on federal covid relief funds, DeSantis confirmed himself.

A second payment has already been made to Vertol, according to records posted on the Florida Department of Finance official’s website, with Florida disbursing another $950,000 in connection with the “authorized alien relocation program” this week. What exactly the money will be used for remains unclear, however, after the rumored flight of immigrants to Delaware, the home state of President Joe Biden, never showed up on Tuesday.

Involved in getting money from Florida’s budget to fund immigration relocation in the state was Republican State Rep. Jay Trumbull Jr., chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He received a $1,000 donation from Vertol this year for his Florida Senate campaign, state finance records show.

The representative’s father, Jay Trumbull Sr., was nominated by DeSantis to serve on the Florida Transportation Commission in 2020, but was not listed as a member on the board’s website Wednesday. Before his appointment, he gave $2,500 to DeSantis’ 2018 campaign, Intervention said. His company, Trumbull Water Services of Northwest Florida, gave another $10,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis, a statewide PAC supporting the governor that describes itself as “committed to advancing the Freedom Agenda and keeping Florida free.”

Other political donations from Vertol in Florida included $500 in 2006 to GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher, $2,500 to North Florida Neighbors, and $10,000 to the Florida Republican Party.

Montgomery did not return requests for comment at a number listed under his name. Vertol’s website, which was online before last week’s migrant flights, was offline Wednesday afternoon with contact information.

The seller’s choice – and expensive – raises even more questions for DeSantis, who has already been beaten in other phases of the flight. He is under criminal investigation in Texas and faces a class action in Massachusetts from the immigrants themselves, who say they were falsely packed onto the plane.

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