Questions Swirl Round Information DeSantis Administration Launched And Withheld On Migrant Flights – NBC 6 South Florida
Florida’s mission to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Winery in September has spawned a legal investigation, civil lawsuits and criticism that the practically 50 migrants had been utilized by Gov. Ron DeSantis as pawns in a political stunt.
Now an NBC 6 investigation raises questions on whether or not state cash has been spent correctly – questions the state has refused to reply.
For instance, considered one of three firms the state stated submitted quotes for the mission denied to NBC 6 it ever submitted a quote.
And the NBC 6 Investigators have obtained a document the state has withheld from the public – a “request for quotes” for “an air transportation firm to offer chartered flight providers” that was despatched to the eventual successful contractor simply 28 hours earlier than the corporate’s response was due.
That contractor, Vertol Techniques Firm of Destin, has shut connections to the DeSantis administration official who oversaw the missions for the state, Larry Keefe, a lawyer who represented the corporate over a number of years.
VIOLATING BUDGET LANGUAGE?
The 2022-23 state funds allowed the Florida Division of Transportation to spend as much as $12 million on contracts to move “unauthorized aliens from this state” after receiving “no less than two quotes.”
However information reveal lots of the migrants had documentation displaying they’d been launched on recognizance after presenting themselves to immigration authorities on the US-Mexico border in Texas. Their legal professionals say they had been actually licensed to be in the US.
They usually didn’t embark on their journey “from this state,” because the funds language acknowledged, however quite boarded two leased jets in Texas, the place they had been recruited by folks working with Vertol.
It has been paid $1.56 million by the state upfront to conduct three migrant relocations, in line with state information, however solely the Martha’s Winery operation went ahead. The 2 others – to Delaware and Illinois — haven’t occurred.
It’s unclear from the information launched to date whether or not two firms responded to both of the 2 “requests for quote” – or RFQs – created by FDOT: the one they haven’t launched publicly that was despatched to Vertol on August 1 with an August 2 deadline; and an earlier one with a July 20 deadline for quotes to be submitted.
One firm straight responded to the sooner RFQ – looking for “a transportation administration firm” to “implement and handle” the relocation program – and the state did launch that RFQ to the general public. It was responded to sooner or later by Gun Women Inc., of Palm Seaside Gardens, however information launched to date don’t embrace a response to that RFQ by Vertol.
Emails present FDOT’s common counsel first mentioned the operation and the way constitution flights are priced with Vertol CEO James Montgomerie on July 26, practically every week after the primary deadline for quotes had handed.
NO THIRD COMPANY BID
When FDOT and the governor’s workplace launched information on October 7, titled “FDOT RELOCATION PROGRAM,” it listed three firms as having supplied quotes: Vertol, Gun Women and Wheels Up, a New York firm that caters to enterprise and luxurious class vacationers looking for non-public air journey.
However a consultant of Wheels Up, which the state claimed submitted an “air quote” in response to a request for quotes, tells NBC 6 Investigators it by no means submitted a response.
The information reveal it did ship the state a brochure describing its providers. However that’s it.
And, NBC 6 has realized, Wheels Up was not despatched a request for quotes till Aug. 5, three days after the deadline had handed for it to reply – and it didn’t reply, in line with a supply with information of the state’s interactions with the corporate.
Whereas it’s unclear, based mostly on the patchwork of incomplete information the state has launched to date, whether or not it received two quotes for both of the RFQs it despatched out, it’s clear three firms didn’t submit quotes, because the state claimed.
FDOT wouldn’t reply detailed questions on the timing and nature of the quotes it did obtain, saying solely there have been “a number of” quotes; the governor’s workplace has not responded to a number of questions in regards to the quotes and the relocation program.
“A PREORDAINED AWARD”?
FDOT and Vertol are being sued by the Florida Middle for Authorities Accountability (FCGA), a nonprofit that promotes authorities accountability and transparency. The lawsuit claims each are unlawfully withholding public information involving the Sept. 14 flights from Texas, via Crestview close to Vertol’s workplaces, and ultimately to Massachusetts.
One doc it’s looking for is the RFQ with the August 2 deadline, which was referenced as an attachment to an e mail despatched by FDOT to Vertol on August 1. However the doc itself – obtained by NBC 6 Investigators — had not been launched by both Vertol or the state.
Given an outline of the doc by NBC 6, Michael Barfield, the FCGA director of public entry, stated it ought to have been launched beneath his and others’ public information requests.
“That’s the doc they had been responding to,” Barfield stated, referring to Vertol’s August 2 response to FDOT’s August 1 RFQ. “I famous that (throughout testimony in a court docket listening to on the lawsuit final week) as a result of I don’t have that doc, even to this date.”
It’s not clear from what has been launched that anybody apart from Vertol responded to it. Nor has any contract between Vertol and the state been launched, so it’s unknown to the general public whether or not it’s extra in line with the primary or second RFQ.
Not like the primary RFQ, the second doesn’t include language stating this system is to “relocate out of the State of Florida …. unauthorized aliens.”
Requested if, based mostly on what has been launched, it seems FDOT received a couple of quote in response to that RFQ, Barfield stated, “No, it doesn’t sound prefer it to me. And I knew one thing was odd right here however I didn’t know precisely what it was.”
Understanding what he is aware of now, he stated, “It feels like there was no bidding course of. It feels like there was a preordained award on this contract for providers to Larry Keefe’s former shopper, Vertol.”
THE VERTOL CONNECTION
Keefe, a Trump-appointed former U.S. Lawyer for Northern Florida, joined the DeSantis administration as “public security czar” final 12 months. Within the 2010s, he represented Vertol in a number of instances, each as protection and plaintiff’s counsel.
And within the lead-up to Vertol receiving its $615,000 verify upfront every week earlier than the Sept. 14 flights, he and Vertol’s CEO Montgomerie exchanged dozens of texts launched by the state involving Vertol’s on-going negotiations with FDOT. Some had been despatched as each males and Vertol’s lead recruiter, Perla Huerta, had been scouting San Antonio for places to solicit migrants to take the flights to Massachusetts.
On Monday August 22, Vertol obtained a $153,500 quote from a constitution jet firm to lease two planes for the flights from Texas to Massachusetts, in line with information Vertol launched in response to the FCGA’s public information lawsuit. That very same day Keefe texted Montgomerie: “Advised my group we should always obtain your proposal Wednesday. Will that timeframe be just right for you?” Montgomerie replied: “Sure sir,” in line with textual content logs launched by the state and Vertol.
They make eight telephones calls to one another over the following three days and on Friday August 26, after Keefe referred to as Montgomery 3 times, Keefe texted Montgomerie at 4:16 p.m.: “Do you suppose it is going to be at the moment or Monday what we mentioned? … My colleagues requested me to inquire to allow them to stay on the workplace if at the moment.”
Montgomerie replied, “Monday,” apparently relieving state workers from staying late on a Friday night time.
The information present the 2 discuss and textual content extra that weekend and on the afternoon of Monday August 29, Keefe requested Montgomerie: “When could I name re instructed revisions.”
The banter between Keefe and his former shopper about FDOT’s contract negotiations with Vertol will increase as an important date nears: Sept. 2, when FDOT and Vertol alternate three proposals, and a number of other emails. At one level, Keefe requested Montgomerie to “maintain me apprised of what happens … so I can keep forward of issues.”
Keefe and Montgomerie despatched or acquired 18 texts and made seven calls to one another that day because the deal was being negotiated – essentially the most communication they’d with one another on any someday in the course of the month for which Keefe’s texts and telephone information had been launched.
Barfield, of FCGA, stated the communications recommend “Mr. Keefe working interference for Vertol in any difficulties they encountered with FDOT.”
NBC 6 Investigators requested the state if Keefe’s degree of involvement along with his former shopper on this course of offered the looks of or an precise battle of curiosity. Or if something that came about might be proof of a violation of state procurement insurance policies or legal guidelines. We acquired no response.
Montgomerie and Keefe have additionally not answered emails and telephone messages requesting remark.
After a protracted day of negotiation on Sept. 2, the details appeared to have been settled and the deal seems sealed on Sept. 6 for $615,000.
Having acquired a quote of $153,000 to lease the planes, Vertol may have spent $462,000 on resort rooms, transportation, meals, salaries, authorized providers, different bills and overhead earlier than it risked dropping cash on the $615,000 deal.
And whereas the information launched to date present solely Vertol responding straight and intimately to the August 1 RFQ — the one the state has withheld from the general public however was obtained by NBC 6 Investigators – the Gun Women’ response to the primary RFQ has sufficient element to estimate how a lot Gun Women could have charged to move 50 migrants on the identical route Vertol used to ship them from Texas via Florida to Martha’s Winery: $446,500.
FDOT wound up paying Vertol 38% greater than that, $615,000 up entrance.
The state additionally launched a doc from Gun Women dated Aug. 1 that claims it may transport 5 folks from Florida to Massachusetts for $26,000 – which might be $260,000 for 50 folks. It’s not clear whether or not that doc is a response to the primary or second RFQ. As a result of it solely quotes a visit from Florida, it can’t be in contrast on to what Vertol was paid to start the migrants’ journey in Texas.
Gun Women declined to remark, besides to say they’d nothing to do with the flights.
DELAWARE ON THEIR MINDS
Lower than every week earlier than Keefe and Montgomerie landed in Crestview on the morning of Sept. 14 on one of many planes with migrants on their method to Martha’s Winery, the 2 males had a Delaware mission on their minds. On Sept. 9, Montgomerie texted Keefe Vertol “may actually do Delaware.”
On Sept. 15, Keefe, who lives close to Montgomerie and the Vertol workplaces in Okaloosa County, was early for a gathering with Montgomerie, the texts point out.
“Might I enter your constructing now despite the fact that I am early?” Keefe texted Montgomerie at 10:22 that Thursday morning.
Lower than six hours later, Montgomerie despatched FDOT an e mail proposing two extra migrant relocations, to Delaware and Illinois, at a price of $950,000.
By the next Monday, Sept. 19, state information point out, the state issued a $950,000 advance cost to Vertol for these missions — neither of which have occurred.