Treasury Department probing DeSantis possible misuse of COVID aid for migrant flights
The federal Department of the Treasury is examining whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis improperly used COVID-19 aid to fund the transport of 50 migrants from Texas to Massachusetts.
The Treasury's Office of the Inspector General plans to review audits to probe the state's spending of pandemic aid, according to a letter from Deputy Inspector General for the Treasury Richard Delmar.
Delmar wrote to Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and five House members that the agency will "review the allowability" of COVID aid to states related to immigration in general, and specifically if Florida used interest earned on these funds "related to immigration activities." POLITICO first reported the news on Wednesday.
DeSantis authorized flights in September to transport around 50 Venezuelan migrants, including children, on two private planes from Texas to a Cape Cod military base. Migrants told reporters they had been lured by the prospects of jobs and free housing.
The Republican governor, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, tapped into $12 million from a fund approved by the state legislature to relocate those who have entered the country illegally.
The Florida Legislature boosted an $8 million request earlier this year by DeSantis for the migrant relocation program to $12 million to be administered by the state Department of Transportation. The $12 million comes from interest earnings from Florida’s $8.8 billion portion of the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan.
Delmar said the probe will confirm whether interest earned on the funds can be used for immigration activities.
Treasury confirmed to members of Massachusetts' Democratic congressional delegation that it will "get this work underway as soon as possible," and Delmar said auditors had already sought information from Florida about how it has spent its COVID-19 aid.
This is the first acknowledgment that federal authorities are reviewing DeSantis' migrant transports.
“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 said.
DeSantis' authorization of the migrant transports riled the left and sparked outrage when he said the transports were an effort to spotlight President Joe Biden's border policies. Biden’s border security policies are “doing huge damage to our country," he said, and “nobody can deny there's a crisis.”
Democrat Charlie Crist, who is facing DeSantis in the Florida governor's race, and other Democrats argued that DeSantis misused the COVID-19 aid dollars.
Following the migrant flights to Massachusetts, there were reports that DeSantis authorized another plane carrying migrants to Biden's home in Delaware. A plane never showed.
“Our heads up did not come from Gov. DeSantis because his only goal, as he's made it really quite clear, is to create chaos and using immigrants fleeing communism as political pawns,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “So it's about creating political theater for him. It's not about getting to a solution.”
DeSantis has threatened to send migrants captured at the border to "sanctuary jurisdictions" around the country.