The GOP-Friendly Jet Company Making Big Bucks Off DeSantis’ Migrant Stunts

·4 min read
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

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

Vertol Systems, Inc., which was founded in Oregon but has ties to the Florida Panhandle, was the company hired for the gig. They reaped more than $12,000 per migrant to transport the group from San Antonio, Texas, to Massachusetts, with stopovers in Florida and South Carolina.

The president of Vertol, James Montgomerie, has contributed exclusively to GOP causes both individually and through his company in Florida, campaign finance records show. That includes donations to the Florida legislature’s appropriations chief, his father, and the state’s Republican party.

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

The Performative Sadism of Ron DeSantis

While millions of dollars are moved throughout Florida politics each year, the donations may shed light on why Vertol was chosen to carry out the migrant flights last week—and why Florida was seemingly willing to pay more than double the market price for a charter service to do so.

The Daily Beast obtained a quote for a charter flight between San Antonio and Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, which included the transportation of 60 people on a Thursday afternoon flight. The estimate, obtained from a website that aggregates charter flight costs from multiple companies, produced cost estimates between $95,536 and $260,214 to fly 60 people on a day’s notice non-stop with varying amenities, like in-air entertainment and flight attendants.

Rena Davenport, a sales associate with Exquisite Air Charter, said in an email that large capacity aircraft can vary significantly in price for charter flights, and that final cost details are often discussed over the phone. The cost of Florida’s migrant flight, however, is still more than double the market price for the most expensive domestic charter flight quoted.

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

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Venezuelan migrants gather at a ferry terminal to head to Joint Base Cape Cod after being dumped in Martha’s Vineyard by Florida.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty</div>

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

Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty

The $615,000 spent by Florida is only a small portion of the $12 million in funding that Florida has designated for a migrant relocation program it established this year. The funding stems from interest earned on federal covid relief funds, DeSantis has confirmed himself.

A second payment has already been dished out to Vertol, according to records published on the website of Florida's chief financial officer, with Florida paying another $950,000 related to the “relocation program of authorized aliens” this week. What exactly the money will be used for remains unclear, however, after a rumored migrant flight to Delaware, President Joe Biden’s home state, never appeared on Tuesday.

Involved in securing money from Florida’s budget for the state’s migrant relocation funding was Republican State Rep. Jay Trumbull Jr., who is the appropriations committee’s chair. He received a $1,000 donation from Vertol this year for his Florida Senate bid, state finance records show.

The representative’s father, Jay Trumbull Sr., was appointed by DeSantis to be on the Florida Transportation Commission in 2020, but was not listed as a member on the commission's website on Wednesday. Prior to his appointment, he gave $2,500 to DeSantis' successful 2018 campaign, The Intercept reported. His company, Trumbull Water Services of Northwest Florida, gave another $10,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis, a state-level PAC that backs the governor and describes itself as being “committed to advancing the Freedom Agenda and keeping Florida free.”

DeSantis’ Migrant Stunt Was Gross. But Was It Against the Law?

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

Montgomerie did not return requests for comment at a number listed in his name. The website for Vertol, which was online prior to last week’s migrant flight, remained offline on Wednesday afternoon along with its contact information.

The questionable—and expensive—vendor choice raises even more questions of DeSantis, who is already being hammered on other fronts over the flight. He is under criminal investigation in Texas and facing a class action in Massachusetts from the migrants themselves, who say they were lured onto the flight under false pretenses.

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