Photos obtained by The Times offer a look at some of the people who may have been involved in the transportation of Venuzualan migrants to the Vineyard, including an image of “Perla” taken in Texas. Perla is the woman accused of rounding up migrants in San Antonio and luring them onto planes with false promises of jobs and other enticements. A photograph obtained by The Times, allegedly of “Perla,” was taken by one of the migrants at a San Antonio hotel during the time migrants were being pitched an opportunity for travel. The photo is a headshot of a smiling woman with dirty blonde hair, with shrubbery and woodwork in the background.
Rachel Self, one of the attorneys representing the migrants, said the Texas-based investigation into the transportation of the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard remains active. That investigation is being conducted by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. “We are very grateful that the sheriff is not standing idly by,” Self said.
A spokesman for the sheriff did not immediately respond to an email or phone call seeking an update on the investigation.
Self said the migrants have shared with law enforcement images of Perla, who she said “lied” to the migrants and “induced” them to board charter flights with the promise of jobs and housing. Those flights ultimately landed at Martha’s Vineyard Airport on Sept. 14. Self said the migrants took several pictures of Perla.
The New York Times identified the woman under investigation as Perla Huerta, a U.S. Army veteran — specifically a counterintelligence specialist and a combat medic. Florida records show that Huerta may be a maiden name, and that she lives on Bayshore Drive in Tampa, Fla.
Self said migrants kept in contact with Perla during their Texas-to-Massachusetts journey through WhatsApp. Upon reviewing the image The Times obtained of the woman believed to be Perla, Self confirmed, “That is the person that clients identified as Perla.” Self said she believed Perla was not alone, that she was working with four or five other individuals. This includes while the planes were in the air.
“There was one man and one woman on each of the planes who were part of the criminal enterprise,” Self said. She did not identify those individuals.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, an organization that has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants, indicated it will name Huerta in the suit if information about her can be verified. Presently they have a placeholder for her in the suit.
“The New York Times and CNN are reporting that ‘Perla,’ the woman sued as Doe Defendant No. 1 in our federal class action lawsuit brought by the migrants deceived into traveling to Martha’s Vineyard last month, is Perla Huerta,” the organization states.
“As alleged in our complaint, ‘Perla’ played an integral on-the-ground recruiting role in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ scheme, inducing migrants in San Antonio to fly with false promises of employment, education, and housing. Once we have verified this information, we plan to amend our complaint to substitute Perla’s true name for Doe Defendant No. 1. She will then be formally served with the complaint and required to respond in federal district court.”
The statement goes on to describe the woman’s background in counterintelligence. “The fact that ‘Perla’ is apparently a former military operative and spy aligns with the allegations in the complaint — which describe a highly orchestrated plan based on secrecy, deceit, and misrepresentation,” according to the statement. “We look forward to uncovering further evidence as the case proceeds, and bringing all of the perpetrators of this scheme to justice.”
A migrant-shot photograph obtained by The Times of a woman suspected of being a participant in the coordination of the flights was allegedly taken on a Texas tarmac before the flights left. Clothing and a red-strapped bag the woman is wearing in the photo appear to match Martha’s Vineyard Airport video stills taken around the time the planes landed on the Vineyard. The woman in those stills wears a similar top, and has a similar red-strapped bag. Some other people in the stills do not appear to be migrants. One person in aviator glasses and a button-down shirt appears to be holding a clipboard or a sheaf of papers. Self didn’t offer any clue as to the identities of any of the people who were reportedly on the planes assisting in the operation. On Tuesday, a representative for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has publicly taken credit for having the migrants transported from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, requested questions about the migrants in writing. The DeSantis administration didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions about Huerta or others involved in the transportation of the migrants. The Texas investigation doesn’t appear to have reached the Island’s airport so far. Airport manager Geoff Freeman told The Times on Tuesday that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has yet to reach out to the airport.
The U.S. Department of Justice has also been asked to open an investigation into what’s been called a “political stunt,” but it’s unclear whether they are investigating the matter.