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Company hired to arrange Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' migrant flights is tied to high-level state official

Lawrence Mower, Mary Ellen Klas, Romy Ellenbogen and Ana Ceballos, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Vertol Systems is also a partner in a company called Zeppelin Holdings LLC with Jay Odom, a prominent Okaloosa County developer and close associate of Gaetz.

In 2009, Odom was indicted along with Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom and the then-president of Northwest Florida State College on charges of funneling state school construction funds to build a hangar for Odom’s business, Destin Jet. The charges were dropped, but in 2013, Odom pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in a separate case and was sentenced to six months in prison.

Zeppelin Holdings LLC owns an eight-seat Cessna Citation jet that flew a similar course as the planes that went to Martha’s Vineyard. Flight tracking data show that on Sept. 5, the week before the Martha’s Vineyard flights, Zeppelin’s Cessna flew from Destin to Tallahassee, stopped in Tampa, returned to Destin and then traveled to San Antonio, where it stayed until Sept. 7. Flight records for the same jet from the previous month show no trips to San Antonio.

The jet returned to San Antonio again on Sept. 16, two days after the flight to Martha’s Vineyard had been completed. Tracking data show that the jet remained at the San Antonio airport for an hour, and returned to Destin.

Neither Keefe, Odom nor Vertol Systems responded to questions about whether the Zeppelin Holdings jet was authorized to participate in the governor’s initiative.

Keefe was hired by the governor’s office last September as the state’s first “public safety czar,” with a $131,725 salary.

 

At the time, DeSantis said Keefe’s role would be “to protect Florida taxpayers from bearing the burden of reckless immigration policies.”

Since then, the state has imposed a number of rules and policies to target illegal immigration.

Florida has sent state law enforcement officers to the southern border in Texas at a cost of at least $1.6 million; cracked down on Florida shelters that provide housing and services to migrant children on behalf of the federal government; sued the Biden administration over its immigration policies; and issued a broad executive order that, in part, “encouraged” state law enforcement officers to pull over drivers who are transporting migrants into the state.

In December, DeSantis also asked the GOP-controlled Legislature for millions of dollars to export migrants from Florida to other states, mentioning the wealthy enclave of Martha’s Vineyard.

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