'Bid-rigging and potentially illegal': DeSantis adviser used private email to coordinate migrant flights
Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at a Turning Point USA event in Tampa, Florida. (Gage Skidmore)

Larry Keefe, an advisor to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, was in conversation with Vertol Systems Company CEO James Montgomerie regarding the coordination of migrant flights using a private Gmail account, Politico reports.

According to NBC6, which first reported the email records, the private email channel was created by DeSantis’ “public safety czar” Keefe when Montgomerie requested a contract in August to send migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

Newly released records from DeSantis’ office show that emails between Keefe and Montgomerie occurred over the course of three weeks leading up to the mid-September flights for about 50 Venezuelan asylum-seekers. AlterNet previously reported that Vertol Systems was paid about $615,000 to carry out the task.

He was paid another $950,000 for more flights that were originally scheduled to go to Delaware and Illinois, but haven’t happened yet.

A former Trump attorney, Keefe used the alias “Clarice Sterling” from the film 'Silence of the Lambs', along with the address “heat19.heat19@gmail.com” to communicate with Montgomerie, who was paid nearly $1.5 million to carry out the migrant flights. Keefe helped Montgomerie craft proposal language for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Keefe said the name “heat19” came from retired U.S. Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster.

Ben Wilcox, co-founder of nonprofit government watchdog Integrity Florida told Politico, “This appears to be a purposeful attempt to evade Florida’s public records laws. It’s not surprising that the Governor’s office wanted to keep these records secret because they suggest that a public official helped draft a bid by a private company for government services.”

He continued, “That’s bid-rigging and it’s potentially illegal.”

NBC6 reported that advocates filed a lawsuit on behalf of the migrants on the basis that “DeSantis, Keefe, Vertol and others ‘conspired to dupe (migrants) into a political stunt … (a) cruel photo opportunity … to use political fervor over immigration to boost defendant DeSantis’ national profile,’” and the Department of Treasury is in the process of looking into whether DeSantis is using COVID-19 federal assistance aid to pay for migrant relocation.