Florida's Venezuela migrant flight recruiter 'Perla' identified as ex-Army counterintelligence agent

martha's vineyard photo
martha's vineyard photo Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The four dozen Venezuelan asylum-seekers flown to Martha's Vineyard on Sept. 14 have told lawyers and news organizations they were lured onto private planes in Texas by a woman named Perla, who gave them McDonald's gift cards, a hotel room, and false promises of jobs, cash assistance, and housing at the end of the fight. The woman's name really is Perla, The New York Times and CNN reported Sunday, and she was recently discharged from the Army and lives in Tampa, Florida.

Perla Huerta, the Times reports, was a combat medic and counterintelligence agent in her two decades in the Army, with several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. She was discharged last month, according to military records. The Times says it was tipped off to Huerta's identity by a person familiar with the San Antonio sheriff's office investigation of the incident, then confirmed her identity with photos shown to several migrants and a repentant Venezuelan migrant she had used to recruit fellow asylum-seekers. A friend of Huerta's identified her to CNN.

Huerta did not respond to request for comment from the Times and CNN.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has taken credit for flying the 48 migrants from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard, using a $12 million state fund set up to "facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state." Since the migrants were flown from Texas — DeSantis said an expected influx of migrants to Florida did not materialize so he had to look elsewhere — and were legally seeking asylum, it's not clear the operation was a legal use of state money.

Florida flew the migrants to Martha's Vineyard on flights chartered from Vertol Systems, a company with ties to several high-profile Florida Republicans, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Larry Keefe, DeSantis' public safety and immigration czar, the Times reports. Florida paid Vertol $615,000 on Sept. 8 and $950,000 less than two weeks later, for "project 1" and "projects two and three," respectively.

The Venezuelans, meanwhile, are upset about being misled and stranded on the Massachusets island. "We were tricked in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico — and then in the United States," Carlos Guanaguanay, 25, tells the Times. Most of the Venezuelans are now being housed at a U.S. military base on Cape Cod.

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