Two more DeSantis administration officials named in lawsuit over migrant planes flown to Martha’s Vineyard

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A class action lawsuit filed in September on behalf of an advocacy group and migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas two months ago has added two additional members of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and an alleged “lead recruiter” of the migrants as defendants, according to an amended complaint filed Tuesday.

DeSantis’ chief of staff James Uthmeier, DeSantis’ “public safety czar” Larry Keefe and a woman named Perla Huerta, believed to be a “lead recruiter” of the migrants in and around San Antonio, Texas, were added to the lawsuit for allegedly working together to deceive the migrants “into accepting transportation that ultimately took them to Martha’s Vineyard,” the amended lawsuit states.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights, a non-profit immigrant advocacy group that represents more than 30 of the nearly 50 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard.

“The object of this scheme was not to help immigrants find a better life in northern cities but to use political fervor over immigration to boost Defendant DeSantis’ national profile,” the lawsuit states.

Vertol Systems Company, Inc. and its CEO James Montgomerie are also now named in the lawsuit. The company is accused of working with the Florida Department of Transportation to relocate the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, according to the amended complaint.

CNN has reached out to DeSantis, Uthmeier, Keefe, Huerta, Montgomerie and Vertol Systems Company, Inc. for comment.

The addition of new defendants and new alleged details to the amended complaint follow the release of records by the state of Florida in response to public records requests.

The lawsuit alleges Keefe and Uthmeier “hatched a scheme of their own to send immigrants to the northeast United States and profit from ensuing media coverage.” Keefe is accused of helping to arrange the flights in San Antonio, while in “frequent communication” with Uthmeier about progress.

Both officials coordinated with Texas officials to transport the migrants, the lawsuit states.

Huerta, described in the lawsuit as a “former combat medic and counterintelligence agent in the U.S. Army,” promised the migrants “that they would be provided employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other assistance in a large city in the Northeast,” according to the lawsuit. She also told them that “upon their arrival, they would have access to stable housing, legal assistance with their immigration proceedings, jobs, and other benefits. She affirmatively concealed the true purpose of the flights” and who was behind the operation, the lawsuit states.

Vertol Systems Company responded to a solicitation for bids by the Florida Department of Transportation to fly migrants to other states, and was ultimately contracted for the deal, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Keefe previously served as outside counsel for Vertol and was in “regular correspondence” with Montgomerie about the contract. The Florida Department of Transportation paid Vertol a total of approximately $1.5 million out of the state’s “general revenue fund” for transporting the migrants, the lawsuit states.

CNN previously reported that a Florida state payment of $615,000 was made to Vertol on September 8, six days before the Martha’s Vineyard flight. Another payment of $950,000 followed on September 16. Montgomerie and DeSantis’ office did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment at the time.

The lawsuit states that Keefe corresponded with Huerta regarding a media report about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s migrant busing program, and later keeping in touch with Uthmeier about the departure of the planes from San Antonio.

“For instance, Defendant Keefe texted Defendant Huerta and another individual a link to an El Paso Times article about Governor Abbott’s immigrant busing program. Defendant Huerta responded, ‘That’s awesome. I’m sure it won’t be long before other places jump on board,’ a sentiment with which Defendant Keefe expressed his agreement,” the lawsuit states. “Later, Defendant Keefe promptly texted Defendant Uthmeier, and thus Defendant DeSantis’s office, when the planes departed San Antonio. He sent two messages to Defendant Uthmeier stating, ‘Wheels up’ and ‘Should be in contact again around 1100 eastern.’”

According to the lawsuit, Keefe and Huerta also “celebrated” via correspondence after the migrants arrived on Martha’s Vineyard on September 14.

“Defendant Huerta texted Defendant Keefe on September 14, 2022: ‘Victory Arms For you!!! Thank you for this opportunity and support.’ Defendant Keefe responded, ‘Thank you for all, Perla !!! Let’s drive on !!! Salute to you. Larry,’” the lawsuit says.


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