DeSantis, Vertol and Shady Money: The Unknown Multimillionaire Orchestrating Florida’s Migrant Relocation Program


(Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty)

On the 15th of September, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) loaded two private planes with 48 Venezuelan migrants and flew them from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, a luxury vacation spot in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as part of the state’s illegal immigrant relocation program. Within hours, the move broke headlines and caused nationwide tumult; GOP affiliates praised DeSantis while Democrats decried his actions as childish, dangerous and unconstitutional.

This action by DeSantis has been widely reported by major news agencies across the United States in recent days. Few media outlets have reported, however, that according to official Florida state records, DeSantis employed the private jet and aircraft company Vertol Systems Company, Inc., owned by millionaire James L. Montgomerie, for the transportation. Though not under the limelight, the persona of Montgomerie warrants scrutiny and examination.

The Florida Department of Transportation transferred $615,000 to Vetrol for their services on the 8th of September, meaning that if the government used the funds solely for the migrant’s relocation, it spent roughly $12,300 to transport each one. A quick Google search reveals that one can find a roundtrip flight from within Texas to Martha’s Vineyard for a considerable fraction of the price. The fact that the Florida government spent such a large amount of money on the migrant relocation when there might have been cheaper alternatives suggests that there could be a degree of suspicious complexity involved in the transaction.

Indeed, it might seem that the Florida government chose to overspend on the transfer because Montgomerie and his business partners have made donations to both DeSantis and his allies before. DeSantis potentially wanted to offer Montgomerie repayment for the donations he made to his campaign.

An image of the second payment made to Vertol Company Systems Inc. by the Florida Department of Transportation. (Daniel Uhlfelder)

Information from OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that follows money in politics, stimulates this theory. OpenSecrets reveals that Montgomerie has donated tens of thousands of dollars to GOP PACs and Super PACs. One notable example is Montgomerie’s $5,000 donation in the 2017-2018 election cycle to North Florida Neighbors, a GOP-affiliated Super PAC run by Nancy Watkins. And Watkins, according to the Florida Trend, “is the GOP’s go-to accountant” in Florida, marking Montgomerie’s donations to her PAC as yet another controversy. It is a common occurrence in America that corporations and companies donate to the political campaigns of government officials, but nonetheless, it is interesting that DeSantis would prioritize, at the expense of taxpayer money, a corporation to which he and his political party have close ties.

Furthermore, Vertol’s website abruptly went down on the night of the 16th of September, one day after DeSantis’ stunt made headlines. The abrupt shutdown of the site brings to mind the old adage that a running man has something to hide.

And, it was not even Vertol that owned the aircraft utilized to transport the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. FAA records show that the planes used— N411FJ and N359SK— are both Dornier 328JET charter planes registered under a company based in North Canton, Ohio, called Ultimate Jetcharters. According to San Antonio Report, “Martha’s Vineyard is a regular destination for the company, though the jets used [by DeSantis] appear to have been brought to San Antonio only recently.” Why couldn’t DeSantis have simply organized the migrants’ transportation directly with Ultimate Jetcharters or another company that may have offered cheaper rates than Vertol?

When examined on a closer basis, the workings of Vertol itself appear more and more interesting. In 2004, Vertol filed an official protest through the United States Government Accountability Office requesting that the United States Threat Systems Management Office (TSMO) cease importing foreign made ground and aviation combat vehicles for use in its combat training to allow Vertol to take part in economic competition and supply said vehicles to the TSMO itself. The protest was summarily denied by the Accountability Office on the grounds that Vertol’s “aircraft could not satisfy the agency’s requirements for demonstrated airworthiness.”

Through an internet archive search conducted by Eastside editors, it was revealed that Vertol, via their website, labels themselves as “the only civil company currently operating Russian helicopters in the United States.” According to an article by Forensic News, Vertol “imported six helicopters from the Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant in Russia…for $48 million” in 2018. Forensic News noted that “the Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant is a subsidiary company of Russian Helicopters, a state-owned holding company controlled by the government conglomerate Rostec,” suggesting a potential link between Vertol and the Kremlin. The same plant was later sanctioned by the United States government in 2022 “for providing support to the Russian military after its illegal invasion of Ukraine,” via Forensic News.

When it comes to national and state governments, dark money erodes trust in public institutions and undermines our national unity. Gray money does the same. Whether or not the multi-million dollar corporation Vertol is susceptible to scrutiny or not, DeSantis’ choice to use it for his relocation stunt can most definitely be called ‘dubious’.

Eastside editors attempted to call Montgomerie multiple times for a comment but received no response. Montgomerie, at the time of writing, has not returned the call.