Monday, September 26, 2022

Plane companies told to hold on to records in DeSantis, migrant lawsuit

Lawyers representing a group of migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard earlier this month are asking two aviation companies to hold onto any documents related to flights from Texas to Massachusetts as part of a federal lawsuit.

Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights sent letters Thursday to Vertol Systems and Ultimate JetCharters, two companies that allegedly handled a pair of flights from San Antonio, Texas, to the island off the coast of Massachusetts. The legal group filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that seeks an injunction on future flights and alleges both violations of Constitutional rights and federal law.

Attorneys for the migrants are asking the two plane companies to keep flight logs, passenger lists, communications with the DeSantis administration, contracts with the state of Florida, and any payments received for the work.

Florida public records show the state’s Department of Transportation paid $615,000 to Vertol Systems on Sept. 8, a week before the group of Venezuelans arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, and another $950,000 on Sept. 19 for a “relocation program of unauthorized aliens.”

Lawyers for Civil Rights said the $950,000 paid to Vertol Systems was “for additional flights, though these were reportedly canceled on or after the day” the lawsuit was filed in Massachusetts.

The Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this week that Vertol Systems is focused on training pilots for the military and running helicopters. But the company, the newspaper reported, is not a stranger to the DeSantis administration — Larry Keefe, the state’s “public safety czar,” represented the company in lawsuits from 2010 to 2017.

DeSantis has maintained that sending migrants to New England highlighted the difficulties communities face at the southern borders as a result of federal immigration. But local and national Democrats have decried the move as a “stunt” that used people to score political points.

When the lawsuit was originally filed last week, DeSantis Communication Director Taryn Fenske said “activists” were using “illegal immigrants for political theater.”

“If these activists spent even a fraction of this time and effort at the border, perhaps some accountability would be brought to the Biden Administration’s reckless border policies that entice illegal immigrants to make dangerous and often lethal journeys through Central America and put their lives in the hands of cartels and coyotes,” Fenske said in a statement.

Attorneys for the migrants allege a group of five unnamed defendants helped the DeSantis administration “target” and “induce” migrants onto planes from Texas to Massachusetts after promising employment and financial assistance.

“Defendants and their unidentified accomplices designed and executed a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting this vulnerability for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests,” the lawsuit reads.

Fenske said migrants were asked to sign a consent form before boarding the planes. In a copy provided to MassLive, a person can sign to “agree to be transported by the benefactor or its designated representative to locations outside of Texas, including in sanctuary states.”

The English portion of the form points to travel from Texas “until the final destination of Massachusetts,” though that language was not in the Spanish section of the document.

A judge ruled last week that the migrants could keep their identities anonymous after their lawyers argued the group had received numerous threats.

Lawyers for Civil Rights Executive Director Iván Espinoza-Madrigal said the migrants “continue to receive hate messages and death threats that are arriving in the office of Lawyers for Civil Rights, that have arrived at Alianza Americas.”

Judge Allison Burrough, a President Barack Obama nominee, is presiding over the case.

Biden’s watchdog in the skies can’t ground Air DeSantis 

There’s probably little the Federal Aviation Administration can do to stop DeSantis from continuing the flights, people familiar with the agency’s legal authorities say.

The company that Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis used to send dozens of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard operates charter flights under approvals granted by federal transportation regulators who have almost absolute power to regulate safety in the skies.

But there’s probably little the Federal Aviation Administration can do to stop DeSantis from continuing the flights, people familiar with the agency’s legal authorities say — even though President Joe Biden and other Democrats have condemned the flights as cruel publicity stunts.

The same laws that give the Federal Aviation Administration its vast sway over air safety also restrict its ability to intrude otherwise into the operations of charter companies. And the migrant flights probably don’t violate the FAA’s regulations, former agency officials say, despite accusations that DeSantis and his operatives violated the migrants’ civil rights.

The FAA itself has shown little eagerness to join the fray. When asked to discuss the bounds of the agency’s authority on DeSantis’ gambit, a spokesperson said only: “The FAA’s mission is safety.” The agency’s parent, the Department of Transportation, referred back to the FAA’s statement.

The predicament showcases some of the limits on Biden’s authority to counter the increasingly brash moves of Republican governors who are sending undocumented immigrants to heavily Democratic communities. Besides DeSantis, governors using the tactic include Greg Abbott of Texas, who has bused thousands of migrants to cities such as Washington, New York and Chicago in recent months, as well as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

The governors have said they’re calling attention to what they charge is the failure of Biden’s border policies.

A civil rights law firm filed a federal class-action suit against DeSantis on Tuesday over the two planeloads of migrants, mostly Venezuelans, who landed on Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 14 after being transported from Texas. Multiple Democratic elected officials have urged the Justice Department to investigate the Florida governor’s actions, while Biden has accused Republicans of “playing politics with human beings, using them as props.”

But the FAA is not best equipped to lead that fight, people knowledgeable about the agency say.

“I don’t see FAA in this at all,” said one former agency official, who spoke on condition of anonymity so that he could speak freely about the agency’s business.

For a charter service to operate, the FAA has to deem its fleet airworthy and the company’s maintenance and operations practices adequately safe. Only then does the agency issue a certificate saying it can carry passengers for hire.

The DOT must separately issue a certificate saying the company has adequate financial backing to serve consumers.

If a charter company flies for hire without either of those approvals, the FAA considers it a “rogue operator” that it “works aggressively to identify and shut down,” according to the agency.

That doesn’t necessarily offer it much leverage over Ultimate JetCharters, the company that conducted the Martha’s Vineyard flights as a subcontractor for Vertol Systems Co. Ultimate JetCharters received federal approval to carry passengers for hire in 1984, according to the National Air Transportation Association, an industry trade group.

Vertol, an Oregon-based flight and maintenance training and aviation support services company, received $615,000 from the state of Florida to facilitate the flights. The funds were part of a $12 million budget allocation the Florida Republican-led Legislature approved to transport migrants.

The former FAA official said nothing that’s come to light about the migrant charters indicates that any problems arose related to the “safety of flight” — meaning the ability to ensure that passengers arrive at their destination without their plane crashing. The FAA has in the past suspended or revoked charter companies’ ability to operate for having inadequately licensed and trained pilots, using aircraft that the agency had not approved for use, ignoring rules limiting pilot flight hours and other violations.

The FAA has some authority to regulate what commercial airplanes carry, and to punish operators that don’t follow the rules. But those rules primarily involve cargo, particularly hazardous materials such as lithium batteries.

If a charter company breaks other laws in the course of transporting goods or people, that would likely fall to either DOJ or the Department of Homeland Security.

DOJ declined to comment on whether it was investigating or otherwise pursuing action related to the charter flights. A spokesperson for DHS did not respond to a request for comment.

Former FAA chief counsel Sandy Murdock said the agency would ground a charter company for issues unrelated to air safety only if another law enforcement body has gotten involved. For instance, if a person used a charter flight to smuggle drugs, the FAA would not be in a position to revoke the charter company’s operating certificate until the DOJ brought charges, he said.

In general, he said acting on issues not directly related to a plane’s safety to fly is a high bar for the agency to meet — and that’s why it doesn’t happen often.

“The agency has rarely used collateral statutes to ground or revoke or suspend the operator’s certificate,” said Murdock, now a legal adviser at JDA Aviation Technology Solutions. “The theory would be that the operator showed such a disregard for another law that it can be inferred that its disregard of that statute would likely extend to the aviation safety requirements.”

Murdock said that in such an instance, it would be “absolutely critical that the operator was aware of the charterer’s illegal intentions.”

Senate Homeland Security Chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who said he plans to speak with DHS about the migrant flight issue, acknowledged that the FAA’s power to intervene is limited. For example, he said, the agency would not have the authority on its own to ground a flight of migrants heading from one state to another.

When asked if any laws should change in light of the migrant flights, Peters responded: “I’d have to spend more time thinking about that.”

Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who serves on the Commerce Committee that oversees the FAA, was likewise unsure whether Congress needs to change any laws in an attempt to curtail or prevent the situation.

“What Governor DeSantis is doing is disgusting. And he and other Republican governors are using political decisions to treat people like garbage,” Luján said. “And that’s what this is all about. So looking at specific rules or changes, I don’t know what’s going to change their behavior. That’s what needs to be evaluated.”

The first former FAA official observed that DOT does have a broad-based consumer protection authority that it can use to enforce rules and hand out penalties based on “unfair or deceptive practices,” but that it may not apply in this case.

The plaintiffs in this week’s civil rights suit allege that DeSantis and other Florida officials used “false promises and misrepresentations” to get the asylum-seekers onto the plane for Massachusetts, including by offering them $10 McDonalds gift cards and making “false promises and false representations” of employment, housing and educational opportunities.

Even so, “I don’t know if you could argue that this was treating consumers improperly [because] the statute says unfair [or] deceptive practices — ordinarily that’s like, you told me the ticket was going to be $200 and instead you charged me $220,” the former official said.

“That’s consumer protection, but this is not really what the controversy is about,” the ex-official said, adding that in this case the state of Florida, not the migrants themselves, paid for the flights.


  1. Politico doesn’t mention all the “secret” flights of illegals all over this country.

    1. For sure, Show us tax payers how much was spent flying MD80's all over the country in the middle of the night dropping off whatever you call them anymore...600,000 grand for 2 flights is insane, if that is all there were....that's 1000's per passenger for a 2 to 3 hour flight.

    2. Contracting can done with "net 30 days" payment, or in advance. Since payment was already in place before the flights to Martha's, the 600K was a prepayment for flight services, not a net 30 payment based on flights already flown. Rage-baiting for clicks by pretending the payment was used up in only two flights is par for the course these days.

  2. Makes sense to me to fly illegal aliens to sanctuary states. If the sanctuary states don't want them, then THEY are involved in deceptive practices by giving themselves a fraudulent designation. No reason for the FAA or anyone else to get involved.

    1. Not a single one was tested for COVID.

      2022 = This year to date 2,150,639
      2021 = 1,734,686
      2020 = 458,088

    2. Why didn't the Democrats ever show the night flights with illegal immigrants from Texas to other states before? Please research who’s wrong here. I love my governor!

    3. The left media doesn’t cover it.

  3. Republican governors: “Not in my backyard!”
    Democrats: “Not in my back yard!”
    Nothing new here. 🙄

    1. "Nothing new here. 🙄"

      The difference is, One side isn't loudly virtue-signalling as to how tolerant and accepting they are to others not like themselves.

      It's the rank hypocrisy that makes the schadenfreude so *deliciously* sweet to rub their noses in it.

      As the late Saul Alinsky once wrote in 'Rules For Radicals' : "Rule number 4 - "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules."

      It's such a delight to use the enemy's own playbook against them... :)

  4. The FAA is as involved in this as a state DMV is for issuing the license plates on busses used to transport illegal aliens.

  5. Philadelphia welcomed them with open arms:


    1. ^ This is because 99% of the decrees and new laws PROTECT CRIMINALS and only 1% of the POLICE OFFICER!

  6. The FAA is not “Biden’s watchdog in the sky”, nor is there any indication that he has tried (or thought about trying) to stop the flights somehow. This story is farcical on its face. (However, Florida taxpayers should wonder why a charter company from Oregon got $615,000 of their money to fly two small jets full of Venezuelans to Massachusetts. One thing Florida has is charter companies, and they could have flown these people first class on American for less).

    1. $615,000 purchased a block of flights. Used only 2 stubs so far.

    2. Obviously you vote democrat

  7. Ron DeSantis was an excellent congressman who actually responded to requests for help from constituents, and he has been an outstanding Governor. He has created a policy agenda and has been faithful to it. He guided Florida through the pandemic with a realistic and open mind about how to manage both the lockdowns and the issues of mandatory vaccinations. His focus on keeping schools open was important. Any conservative who bucks the politically correct left agenda openly and aggressively is considered boorish and offensive by the left. Yet every day, we as citizens are bombarded by the cram-down government of the Democrat Party on issues of all stripes where your opinions are considered worthless and a “ threat to democracy” unless they comport with the increasingly bizarre dogmas of the left. We need more like Ron DeSantis, not less. I, too wish politics would normalize to more courteous and even exchange. But until the left stops the cram-down of its agenda that won’t happen.

  8. Let's be clear here. The Democrats and their climate religion are no friends of aviation and particularly not to general aviation. The green new deal Marxists and their climate nutter allies would shut us down in a second if they could.

    1. "The Democrats and their climate religion are no friends of aviation and particularly not to general aviation."

      Preach it. They are the ones who buy an existing home near a municipal airport, and then have the gall to shut it down because they can hear airplanes.

      And for some reason the California judges can't seem to understand the concept of 'buyer beware'...

  9. Florida is not a sanctuary state. Governor DeSantis will gladly facilitate the transport of illegal immigrants to sanctuary jurisdictions.

  10. All illegals who come across the border should be taken by buses to a heavily guarded compound in the middle of the desert first. Then all need to be background checked, health and criminal status completed. After that they would have to have someone sponsor each individual adult or child with a $100,000 bond and accept for responsibility for their actions once allowed to be released in to the US. I don’t think we would have near as many takers for them. After 30 days those who do not get sponsors will find a one way flight back to their original country.