The Treasury Department watchdog has agreed to investigate any potential misuse of federal funding behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) flights that left 50 migrants on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., last month.
In a letter to Massachusetts lawmakers sent Friday but publicly shared Wednesday, the department indicated its probe has begun, noting it has “already sought information from Florida” about appropriate use of federal funding.
The investigation comes after DeSantis hired private charters to fly a group of mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to the Massachusetts island. The group was told they would get assistance with housing and finding jobs only to arrive to learn that local nonprofits had no clue they were coming.
Treasury’s Deputy Inspector General Richard Delmar told lawmakers that it would “review the allowability” of using two different types of COVID-19 aid or the interest earned on the funding on immigration-related activities.
Florida did not directly spend COVID funding on the migrant flights, but last year the state legislature set aside $12 million earned from interest on the federal funding to transport “unauthorized aliens from this state.”
DeSantis’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was among those who wrote to Treasury asking for the investigation.
“For the sake of the migrants who were lured onto charter planes under false pretenses, and for the commendable Commonwealth residents who rallied together to offer support, I hope that this investigation sheds light on whether Governor DeSantis misused funds that were intended for COVID relief for Floridians,” Markey wrote.
A Texas sheriff has also agreed to investigate DeSantis’s migrant flights, saying they were “lured under false pretenses.”
Sheriff Javier Salazar, who leads the office in the country encompassing San Antonio, noted that the migrants, who were allowed into the country to pursue asylum claims, have a legal right to be in the U.S.
“They had a right to walk around the streets just like you and me, and they had a right not to be preyed on and played for a fool and transported halfway across the country, just for the sake of a media event or a video opportunity,” Salazar said in September.
The migrants transported by DeSantis have also filed a class action suit against DeSantis.
In a statement from the governor’s office, communications director Taryn Fenske said that Florida’s Office of Policy and Budget spoke with the Treasury Department watchdog, telling them “our use of this interest, as appropriated by the Florida Legislature, is permissible.”
“Reviews by Treasury are typical and, as stated by the OIG, are ‘part of its oversight responsibilities,’” she added.