TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Treasury Department is taking a look into Gov. Ron DeSantis’ migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard to determine whether the Florida governor improperly used COVID-19 financial aid to facilitate the transports.
According to a report from Politico, the agency’s inspector general’s office said it planned to probe Florida’s spending “as soon as possible” as part of ongoing audits into how states have used the billions sent to them as part of the American Rescue Plan.
According to Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), DeSantis paid for the Sept. 14 flights of 48 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard using interest earned on COVID-19 relief from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF), created under the American Rescue Plan Act.
In an Oct. 7 letter to several members of Massachusetts’s Democratic congressional delegation, the deputy inspector general for the Treasury Department said the agency would “review the allowability” of COVID-19 aid to states “related to immigration generally, and will specifically confirm whether interest earned on (the) funds was utilized by Florida related to immigration activities, and if so, what conditions and limitations apply to such use.”
DeSantis and other Republican governors have used the tactic to draw attention to the Biden administration’s immigration policies, however, Democrats have accused DeSantis of using the migrants as part of a political stunt.
The president himself has called DeSantis’ flights “reckless.” Several Democrats, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, have called on the Justice Department to consider ‘kidnapping’ charges and other criminal charges for the flights.
DeSantis has defended his orders for the flights saying in part, “we are not a sanctuary state and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” referring to the assistance offered in other states like Massachusetts, New York, and California. “Yes, we will help facilitate that transfer for you to be able to go to greener pastures,” he added.
Previous statements from DeSantis’ Communications Director noted that $12 million was appropriated ”to implement a program to facilitate the transport of illegal immigrants from [Florida] consistent with federal law.”
However, records released by the state sparked new questions about Florida law and the $12 million pool of money set aside to move “unauthorized aliens.”
While the letter from the deputy inspector general did not provide a timeline for a review of the state’s spending, it noted that auditors had “already sought information from Florida” about how it spent COVID-19 aid, the report added.
“We plan to get this work underway as quickly as possible, consistent with meeting our other oversight mandates and priorities, both in pandemic recovery programs as well as the other Treasury programs and operations for which we have responsibility,” the letter from the deputy inspector general stated. “We are also monitoring legislative and judicial challenges to the use of the funds for this purpose; such developments may affect the scope and timing of our review.”
WFLA.com has reached out to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office to ask for response to the Treasury Department’s probe.