Documents released by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration through public records requests show that the state’s public safety czar was on the spot in Texas before the flights that brought about 50 migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts was.
The recordings are part of 87 pages of documents and four cellphone videos released Monday night showing the migrants boarding the planes, including several children. Text messages show that DeSantis security czar Larry Keefe was dating a former Secret Service agent, Perla Huerta, when she worked to recruit migrants for the trips. The Bexar County Sheriff is currently investigating the recruitment of the migrants and whether they were deceived about the flights. NBC 6 investigators emailed and called Huerta, but received no response.
Records show that the state of Florida paid more than $1.5 million to a contractor in connection with the relocation program. It is part of the $12 million approved by lawmakers to “facilitate the transportation of unauthorized aliens out of the state (Florida).” But as NBC 6 investigators previously reported, the state may have violated state laws and treaty guidelines because the migrants were not found in Florida. In court filings and statements, the migrants’ lawyers also argued that they were authorized because many apply for asylum under federal law.
About a month before the flights to Martha’s Vineyard, text messages show that Florida officials were looking for information about the ongoing Texas resettlement program called Operation Lone Star. Text messages describe a meeting between Keefe, Huerta, officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Operation Lone Star in Texas began in March 2021. Several states, including Florida, have dispatched soldiers to help along the Texas-Mexico border and formed a task force. Texas officials told NBC 6 they gave a presentation on the major operation to the group of Florida officials.
Ericka Miller, the press secretary for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), told NBC 6, “Following these presentations, several, including Florida, came forward to better understand the mission, see how it’s being carried out, and learn more about efforts they may be able to replicate in their own states. Representatives from Florida visited the Texas border in August to see DPS OLS operations firsthand.”
In an email, Seth Christensen of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) added, “TDEM officers were unaware of how Florida law enforcement would use the information gleaned from these conversations.”
Newly obtained records provide insight into the planning of Florida’s migrant flights, including the involvement of the governor’s staff. NBC 6’s Phil Prazan reports
The latest text messages from NBC 6 show that Keefe referred the flight contractor to Dave Abrams, an adviser on the governor’s reelection campaign. That contractor later told Keefe that the campaign worker had contacted the company. Neither Keefe nor Abrams responded to NBC 6 requests for comment.
DeSantis and Florida Department of Transportation officials have provided limited comment on the migrant flights and did not respond to an NBC 6 request for comment Tuesday about the newly released records. But on the campaign trail, DeSantis promoted the program and said he would continue it to draw attention to the number of migrants crossing the southern border.
A lawsuit hoped to stop Miami State Senator Jason Pizzo’s program was dismissed Monday by a Leon County Circuit Court judge on technical grounds. Pizzo plans to amend and refile the lawsuit.
The Texas program has transported more than 10,000 migrants from the Texas-Mexico border to Chicago, New York and Washington DC. On Tuesday, Gov. Abbott’s office announced that it had sent its first busload of people to Philadelphia.