Florida Governor's contract to transport immigrants to Martha's Vineyard eliminated key safeguards, chose high bidder
Public records show Florida prepaid the highest bidder and didn't even require reports
The Executive Office of the Governor of Florida and Florida’s Department of Transportation just released two sets of records with the contracts, quotations, and parameters of their program that lured asylum seekers under false pretenses on flights to the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. (Documents linked at the bottom.)
In its haste to carry out the governor’s program to transport undocumented immigrants, the state let its chosen vendor skip using the protocols necessary to make sure they limited flights to the right people, chose the highest bidder, prepaid the contract before the flights took place, and omitted its reporting requirements from the contract.
FDOT prepaid in full for the service one day after the final quotation for what its vendor described as “Project 1.”
The Stern Facts is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Despite Florida’s strong public records law requiring immediate production of these records, which were requested 22-days ago, the Governor’s office and FDOT took over three weeks from the time of the request to produce two sets of documents (shown below) totaling 81-pages. Even though all of the records appear to be from FDOT, the Governor’s office produced one set of records, and the transport agency produced a different set of documents 55-minutes apart after the close of business on a Friday.
“The documents in this request for quotes outline a procedure that was not followed,” says attorney Daniel W. Uhlfelder who assisted in obtaining the records from FDOT. “Contractor responsibilities are very detailed but do not appear to have been followed.”
On September 7th, FDOT approved hiring the private aviation company Vertol Systems Company Inc. to charter two airplanes that transported 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers and pre-paying for their services pursuant to their quotation for services provided only a single day earlier.
Six days later, Vertol Systems chartered two planes to fly to San Antonio, then on to Crestview, Florida, and into the Carolinas before landing in Martha’s Vineyard with 50 migrants who legally entered the United States. Vertol Systems conducted the flights in facially apparent violation of the attached Florida state budget appropriation to “facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.”
The reason Vertol Systems didn’t bother ensuring that they were, in fact, transporting non-citizens who were not documented is that FDOT either ignored or accepted that they had none of the extensive protocols outlined in the “FDOT Relocation Program” documents provided by the Governor’s office.
Records from the Governor’s office show that the program’s “Request for Quote” specified four detailed deliverables:
Establish Procedure to Receive Requests from Partner Agencies
Establish Procedure for Determining Eligibility for Relocation
Deliverable 3- Provide Transportation and all AncillaryServices
Ultimately, the state chose a contractor in Vertol Systems who only listed a single deliverable in their proposal: transport.
FDOT also selected the highest of the two bidders.
Florida paid over $12,000 per immigrant for the services.
Per the program’s legislative appropriation, the state was required to obtain at least two bids prior to issuing a contract, which it did do. A charter membership company also provided its brochure to FDOT’s general counsel, which the governor’s office released in response to public records requests.
The records indicate that the second bidder is Gun Girls Inc., a prison transport company with existing state contracts.
“The quote I gave is for a contract that did not happen,” said Gun Girls Inc.’s President Susan Kushlin in a telephone interview. “We were going to be doing ground transport or by commercial air transport.”
She explained that her company “hasn’t done anything because they’re (FDOT) getting the paperwork together. As a woman-owned company that does prison transport, we do everything by the book.”
Indeed, the Gun Girls Inc. proposal included all four deliverables sought by the state:
If the state chose to transport people from northern Florida to Massachusetts by commercial flight or ground transport, then the cost would’ve been less than half of what it ultimately paid to Vertol Systems.
In fact, according to the quotation provided by Gun Girls Inc. to state officials, the transport of immigrants was specifically from a “TBD Florida Location.”
None of the Vertol Systems proposals mentioned an origination point for the persons to be transported.
Ultimately, the records show it was FDOT’s Director of the Office of Administration, Stephanie Iliff, two rungs down the org chart from the department’s secretary Jared Perdue, who approved the transportation pre-payment.
“It is clear, based on these documents, that there was little effort to ensure proper entity was hired for this project,” concluded the lawyer Uhlfelder. “It is characterized as a humanitarian project including requirements to coordinate with various government agencies. This wasn’t humanitarian at all.”
Here are the complete contracts and records produced: