Feds investigate possible misuse of COVID funds

Markey, Keating and others asked Treasury Dept. to investigate funds used by Florida Gov. DeSantis to fly migrants to M.V.

Did Florida misuse COVID relief funds to send migrants to Martha's Vineyard? The Treasury Department is investigating. — Abigail Rosen

Updated Oct. 13

The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis improperly used federal funds meant for COVID-19 relief when he arranged for 50 Venezuelan migrants to be flown to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas on Sept. 14.

The investigation was requested in a Sept. 19 letter signed by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and several Massachusetts congressmen, including U.S. Rep William Keating, D-Bourne, who serves the Island.

In a letter dated Oct. 7, Richard K. Delmar, deputy inspector general, informed those who signed the letter of the investigation into whether DeSantis misappropriated State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). 

“As part of its oversight responsibilities for the SLFRF, [Office of Inspector General] has audit work planned on recipients’ compliance with eligible use guidance,” Delmar wrote. “In addition, as part of our oversight work of the Coronavirus Relief Fund established by the CARES Act, we have already sought information from Florida about appropriate use of that fund.”

According to the letter, part of the investigation centers on whether SLFRF funds can be used for immigration. “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,” Delmar wrote. “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.”

In an email to The Times, a spokesperson for Sen. Markey wrote that the senator “applauds the Treasury OIG for taking this matter seriously, and looks forward to a swift and thorough investigation.”

Keating also praised the investigation. “It’s important that Treasury is looking into the DeSantis stunt based on our request, in addition to both local Florida and Texas officials who are investigating the matter,” he said. “Clearly the recovery money was not intended for misuse such as this.”

The initial letter was signed by Markey, Keating, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, U.S. Rep Seth Moulton, and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley. In that letter, the congressional delegation questioned the use of the funds, which were targeted for pandemic relief. According to the Florida statute at issue, the “relocation program” was funded using interest earnings associated with COVID-19 relief funding. “According to reports, Florida has used federal funds intended to help communities recover from the coronavirus pandemic for an inhumane program to transport newly arrived immigrants,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe this program misuses federal COVID-19 relief funds and violates federal law.”

The letter went on to call it an “abuse of coronavirus relief programs.”

Late Wednesday Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for DeSantis, wrote in an email that the governor’s administration consulted with the Treasury Department about using interest gained from the SLFRF funds “to transport illegal immigrants voluntarily to sanctuary jurisdictions” and were told that “it is permissible.” 

The distinction appears to be whether the migrants went voluntarily or were lured under false pretenses as their attorneys allege.

Reviews by Treasury are typical and, as stated by the OIG, are ‘part of its oversight responsibilities’,” Redfern wrote.

Two private charter jets were hired to bring the 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. Gov. DeSantis has taken credit for the flights and defended his actions and the light it shined on problems at the southern border. Democrats have called it a “political stunt” that inhumanely used vulnerable men, women, and children as pawns.

This is the second confirmed investigation into the Sept. 14 relocation of migrants to the Island.

Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating a woman identified as Perla Huerta who allegedly lured the migrants with the promise of jobs, housing, and an easier immigration path. Since being identified publicly last week, “Perla,” a former counterintelligence specialist, has remained elusive. Her last known address is Tampa, Fla.

A spokesman for the sheriff told The Times last week that the investigation is ongoing, and there was nothing new to report.

It’s unclear whether calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate by state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, as well as nearly 50 members of Congress, have gone anywhere. The DOJ has repeatedly said it does not confirm or deny investigations.

All of this comes as the migrants have departed from the emergency shelter set up by Joint Base Cape Cod, some of them returning to the Vineyard.

Meanwhile, a federal civil rights suit has also been filed.

Lisa Belcastro, coordinator at Harbor Homes, told The Times Wednesday that four of the migrants are on the Vineyard, and another four planned to come but instead moved to Provincetown. “They’re happy,” Belcastro said.

Three couples have taken Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) housing on the Cape, Belcastro said. Several have gone off-Cape to, she believes, Stoughton, and two remained on the Cape and went to Brewster. Belcastro said she knew only a portion of their destinations.

Updated with a comment from DeSantis spokesman.


  1. “Possible misuse” ?
    So what if he took my federal tax dollars and spent them on a political stunt to arouse his base ?
    If he had spent that money protecting people from “so called covid,” it might have only saved the lives of one or two Floridians at best. It was under a million dollars after all.
    And really, I expect some of the more conservative commentors here tell us that Mexico actually paid for those flights.

  2. At first sight when I saw the headline of “misuse of Covid funds”
    paired with the photo of Sheriff Bob Ogden doing his best Tricky Dick “I am not a crook” pose, I thought justice had finally arrived at the House of Insurrection.
    To hear the esteemed Sheriff declare at the outset of the pandemic that the residents of 149 Main St were “safer in here than the outside”, only to experience Covid running rampant through staff and residents, seemed about right to me.

    • Your comment wasn’t censored, it was moderated. Stick to the topic at hand and you won’t have any issue getting your comment posted.

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