Fatima Hussein, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Treasury Department’s internal watchdog is investigating whether Florida Governor Ron DeSantis improperly used federal pandemic aid to transport migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as part of of his efforts to “transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations”.
The goal is to determine whether millions of dollars in interest earned from fiscal stimulus funds, paid under the U.S. bailout to states and municipalities, were used to facilitate the transportation of about 50 Venezuelans from Texas to Massachusetts in mid-September, with a stopover in Florida.”
The stimulus fund program has strict requirements on how the money can be spent. Documents show that Florida officials paid Destin, Fla.-based Vertol Systems Co US$1.56 million for the flight to Martha’s Vineyard and possibly for a flight to Delaware, State of origin of President Joe Biden, which ultimately did not take place.
The Inspector General’s office has scheduled audit work “on compliance and adherence to program eligibility guidelines,” Deputy Treasury Inspector General Richard K. Delmar said in a letter to the Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey, who called for the investigation.
“We plan to initiate this work as quickly as possible, consistent with our other oversight mandates and priorities,” the letter said. The 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 a lot of publicity. The Florida governor said the migrants voluntarily traveled to Massachusetts.
“Using federal COVID-related relief funds in this manner defeats the intent of Congress and appears to violate federal law,” Mr. Markey and six other Massachusetts lawmakers wrote in a letter from the government. September 17 to M. Delmar. Mr. Markey added that Mr. DeSantis was “skillfully using COVID-19 aid to score political points by exploiting vulnerable immigrants.”
The White House called the trip to Martha’s Vineyard a “cruel and premeditated political coup.”
Mr. Delmar did not indicate when the review would be completed. Other law enforcement agencies across the United States have also launched investigations into migrant trips organized by Republican lawmakers to Democratic strongholds.
The theft also prompted an investigation by a Texas sheriff and two lawsuits. The Treasury Department referred the questions to the inspector general’s office, which did not respond to a request for comment.
— With information from Curt Anderson of The Associated Press.