TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Documents released Monday night show a high level of coordination between a top official in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and some of the key people responsible for facilitating flights of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
In response to a lawsuit, the DeSantis administration released a handful of texts messages between DeSantis’ safety czar, Larry Keefe, and Perla Huerta, the woman who is believed to have recruited migrants in San Antonio for the trips to Massachusetts.
Texts also show that Dave Abrams, an adviser on DeSantis’ reelection campaign, was looped into conversations centered on the migrants. Abrams did not respond to a request for comment.
While many of the texts focus on mundane issues like scheduling or meeting times, others show that Keefe was involved in coordinating the flights at the highest level. DeSantis picked Keefe, an ex-U.S. Attorney appointed by former President Donald Trump, to serve as his public safety czar last year with a special focus on cracking down on illegal immigration in the state.
Some of the texts show that Keefe was communicating about contracts and flight times with the owner of the charter company that facilitated the flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. One shows Keefe texting people that he was in a vehicle with Huerta, unidentified Florida Department of Law Enforcement personnel and officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety. Another shows Huerta agreeing to scout out locations for a small office where they can also park pick-up trucks.
DeSantis’ flights sparked a massive backlash by Democrats and others. The Treasury Department’s watchdog is looking into whether the governor improperly used money connected to federal Covid-19 relief while a sheriff in Texas is investigating the flights. The Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights also filed a federal class action lawsuit against the governor, accusing him of violating the migrants’ rights by coercing them to get on the flights to Massachusetts through “false promises and misrepresentations.”
A Florida judge had previously ordered the administration to release documents connected to the migrant flights by Monday after he ruled that DeSantis wasn’t following the state’s public record laws. The administration had appealed the ruling yet appeared to release records that had been sought as part of that lawsuit.
Yet the plaintiff in that challenge, Florida Center for Government Accountability, stated Monday night that the governor appears to have withheld some documents.
“It’s clear additional records exist that haven’t been produced. We will advise the governor’s Office tomorrow and, if necessary, seek resolution by the court,” said Michael Barfield, director of public access for the Florida Center for Government Accountability.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the newly-released records, including questions involving Keefe.
Most of the texts released Monday are between Keefe and James Montgomerie, the owner of Vertol Systems Company Inc., the company Florida contracted with to carry out the flights. Throughout their conversations in August and September, they discuss flight times and other aspects of the transports. But sprinkled in are conversations about migrants crossing the border.
During one group text exchange from Aug. 31 — about two weeks before DeSantis’ administration flew the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard — a person texted a story on Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s program dubbed “Operation Lone Star” to bus hundreds of migrants across the country to blue strongholds like Washington, D.C., Chicago or NYC.
“That’s awesome. I’m sure it won’t be long before other places jump on board,” Huerta replied, according to the texts.
In another exchange from Aug. 17, Huerta asks an individual “where refugees hang out in between waiting on greyhound or flights out.”
Huerta was directly responsible for finding migrants and enticing them to board flights, according to the Miami Herald. She still remains largely out of the public’s eye.
Back in September a spokesperson for Abbott said the Texas governor was not involved in the flights. But the records suggest that Texas officials were notified. Additionally, Barfield’s group has obtained public records from Texas that show a text exchange between James Uthmeier, the chief of staff for DeSantis and Luis Saenz, who has been Abbott’s chief of staff.
The text message included contact information for Keefe and a message that said “he can loop in others as needed.” The message added that Keefe was a “former US Atty under Trump, trustworthy and effective.”