Treasury investigates Florida governor's migrant flight

White House calls trip to Martha’s Vineyard 'cruel, premeditated political stunt'

Two flights full of asylum seekers were sent to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. EPA
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The Treasury Department's watchdog is investigating whether Florida Governor Ron DeSantis improperly used federal pandemic aid to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as part of his effort to “transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations".

At issue is whether millions of dollars in interest earned on State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, disbursed through the American Rescue Plan, was used to fly about 50 Venezuelans from Texas to Massachusetts in mid-September, with a stopover in Florida on the way.

The recovery funds programme has strict requirements on how the money can be spent.

Documents indicate Florida officials paid local company Vertol Systems $1.56 million for the Martha's Vineyard flight and possibly for one to Delaware, the home state of President Joe Biden, which ultimately did not happen.

The inspector general's office has audit work planned on "recipients' compliance with eligible use guidance", Treasury deputy inspector general Richard Delmar wrote to Senator Ed Markey, who requested the investigation.

Venezuelan migrants outside St Andrew's Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, after being 'relocated' to Martha's Vineyard. Reuters

“We plan to get this work under way as quickly as possible, consistent with meeting our other oversight mandates and priorities,” the letter said. Treasury does not have a confirmed inspector general.

Mr Markey wrote to the inspector general's office in September, shortly after Mr DeSantis arranged the trip, which received wide publicity.

The governor said the migrants travelled voluntarily to Massachusetts.

“The use of federal Covid relief funds in this manner runs contrary to congressional intent and appears to violate federal law,” Mr Markey and six other Massachusetts legislators wrote in a September 17 letter to Mr Delmar.

Mr Markey said Mr DeSantis was “effectively using Covid-19 relief to score political points by exploiting vulnerable immigrants".

The White House has called the trip to Martha’s Vineyard a “cruel, premeditated political stunt".

Mr Delmar did not indicate when the probe would be complete.

Other law enforcement agencies throughout the US have launched investigations of migrant trips arranged by Republican politicians to Democratic strongholds.

The flight has also spawned an investigation by a Texas sheriff and two lawsuits.

Updated: October 12, 2022, 11:55 PM