Gov. Ron DeSantis' chief of staff, public safety czar added to suit over migrant flights to Martha's Vineyard

Amended lawsuit comes after lawyers found 'coordinated scheme at the highest levels of the Florida government'
Immigrants flown from Florida to Martha's Vineyard, Sept. 14, 2022
Posted at 1:36 PM, Nov 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-03 15:42:40-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Two members of Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration were named Tuesday in a lawsuit related to the flying of Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard in September.

Attorneys from Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) based in Boston filed an amended complaint in their federal class action suit against DeSantis and others, claiming the migrants were lured onto the flights under false pretenses.

The new complaint added multiple defendants to the case including Lawrence Keefe, known as Florida's "public safety czar," and James Uthmeier, the governor's chief of staff.

RELATED: Migrant flights to Martha's Vineyard cause split opinions among Florida Hispanics


The lawsuit was first filed shortly after the 49 migrants were transported from Texas to Florida and then to Massachusetts, attracting national headlines.

LCR said the amended lawsuit comes after their lawyers found a "coordinated scheme at the highest levels of the Florida government."

"The 86-page amended complaint outlines how DeSantis and his co-conspirators hatched and executed a plan to induce vulnerable Latinx immigrants in Texas to board privately chartered flights through false promises of jobs, shelter, and immigration assistance," a statement released Tuesday by LCR said.

RELATED: Florida allocates $12 million to transport 'unauthorized aliens from this state'

The new complaint said that attorneys found text messages and other documents showing that Keefe and Uthmeier were "intimately involved" in the plan to transport the migrants.

Other defendants added to the lawsuit include the plane company — Vertol Systems Company, Inc. — and its CEO, along with Perla Huerta, who is identified as the person who spearheaded the plan.

"All actors — public or private — involved in this effort to exploit our clients for political or monetary gain will be held accountable," Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, LCR's executive director said in a Tuesday statement. "Let this be a warning to anyone thinking about becoming involved in a deceptive scheme like this in the future: do so at your peril."

Immigration DeSantis Flights
A woman, who is part of a group of immigrants that had just arrived, holds a child as they are fed outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Wednesday Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via AP)

RELATED: Flights to Martha's Vineyard cost a fraction of what contractor charged Florida to relocate migrants

Buried near the bottom of the state's 2022 General Appropriations Act, WPTV found $12 million earned in interest from federal coronavirus dollars that came to Florida. The money was allocated to "facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state."

Records show the state has already paid a company more than $1.5 million for a "relocation program of unauthorized aliens."

DeSantis has faced criticism for transporting the migrants to the upscale Massachusetts island while receiving praise from Republican allies.

"I got $12 million for us to use, and so we are gonna use it," DeSantis said in September. "And you're gonna see more and more. But I'm gonna make sure that we exhaust all those funds because I think it's important."

The governor's office on Friday released the following statement regarding the amended lawsuit:

"The relocation program was funded by interest from federal COVID dollars and lawfully executed under an appropriation of the Florida state legislature (that, incidentally, had bipartisan support.) This program does not violate federal law. We will continue to defend the state's actions against these politically motivated, unsound lawsuits."