The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General will look into whether the state of Florida misused federal tax dollars when it moved 48 recent migrants from Texas to Massachusetts in September. A spokeswoman for Governor Ron DeSantis's administration tells NBC 6 they were permitted to use the money for the program and the probe by the OIG is typical as part of its responsibilities.
Earlier this year, Florida lawmakers approved $12 million “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state (Florida).” The money came from interest collected from the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, federal money sent to the state to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter obtained by NBC 6 responding to U.S. Senator Ed Markey and five members of the Massachusetts delegation to Congress, the Deputy Inspector General for the U.S. Treasury Department Richard Delmar confirmed the probe.
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Delmar wrote the Treasury Inspector General “has audit work planned” and “already sought information from Florida about appropriate use of that fund.” He wrote they are looking for a more detailed analysis and will review whether there are limitations and conditions on the federal money related to “immigration activities.”
“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.
Massachusetts leaders in Congress sent a letter on September 16 to the U.S. Treasury Office of Inspector General requesting the review to determine if the Florida program misused taxpayer money meant for pandemic relief.
“I hope that this investigation sheds light on whether Governor DeSantis misused funds that were intended for COVID relief for Floridians,” Sen. Ed Markey, D–MA, wrote in a statement to NBC 6.
Wednesday afternoon, DeSantis communications director Taryn Fenske wrote NBC 6 the state had been in communication with the OIG for weeks about using interest on federal dollars to move immigrants to "sanctuary jurisdictions."
"Reviews by Treasury are typical and, as stated by the OIG, are 'part of its oversight responsibilities," wrote Fenske.
Reached by email Deputy Inspector General Delmar had no other comment besides what he wrote in the letter.
NBC 6 Investigators reported earlier how the program may have violated state law and contracting guidelines. Both the law approved by lawmakers and FDOT guidelines sent to the contractor noted the migrants must be moved from within the state of Florida and must be unauthorized aliens. The migrants were found in Texas. The lawyers for the migrants argued in court filings and statements they are authorized because many are seeking asylum under federal law.
At several press conferences last month, Governor DeSantis defended the program and said the flights would continue as a response to the Biden Administration reversing the “remain in Mexico” policy and moving migrants around the country earlier this year.
“No one really cared about that on the national media perspective until fifty show up in Martha’s Vineyard,” Gov. DeSantis said. “You have to ask yourself on this, why is that such a big deal but it wasn’t a big deal when some fifty migrants died in some shed in Texas.”
The governor claimed many of the migrants may not qualify for asylum and they’re using that as an excuse to stay in the United States.
“There’s a whole cottage industry of people claiming asylum. Most of these people clearly do not qualify for asylum. So that is being abused,” DeSantis said.
The governor’s office wouldn’t comment on what the criteria was to select the group of migrants. Records released through public records requests indicate the contractor Vertol System was responsible for recruiting the migrants.
NBC 6 has made multiple attempts to reach out to the company and its CEO, but we have not received any response.
Delmar said the department is also monitoring legislative and judicial challenges to the program which may impact their review, according to the letter. A Florida state senator has challenged the program in court and the Bexar County Sheriff in Texas has launched an investigation into the Florida program.