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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 Company doesn’t seem like an obvious fit to regularly fly dozens of people across the country.

The company’s business has focused on aircraft maintenance and support, training pilots and leasing its helicopters to fisheries and other companies around the world. From 2000 to 2020, the company received more than $25.7 million in defense contracts for flight training, records show.

Since news broke about the company’s involvement in DeSantis’ migrant flight programs, its website was taken offline. In April, its website said it operated four types of helicopters and three types of small planes with a maximum capacity of 12 people. (FAA records show the company has 55 aircraft.)

None of the company’s planes flew the 48 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. Instead, flight records show Ohio-based Ultimate JetCharters flew them, apparently as a subcontractor. The state’s contracting websites show no payments to the company. Ultimate JetCharters, which specializes in corporate shuttles, sports team travel and casino trips, has not responded to repeated requests for comment about how it came to be involved in the program or whether it would continue the work.

Another round of flights by Ultimate JetCharters was scheduled this week to fly migrants from Texas to Delaware — Biden’s home state — but they were canceled without explanation, leaving the migrants stranded in San Antonio.

Since 2010, Vertol Systems and Montgomerie have used the law firm Keefe, Anchors & Gordon to represent the company in more than 20 lawsuits filed in Okaloosa County.

 

The cases ranged from personal — such as Keefe suing a drunken driver who crashed into Montgomerie’s Range Rover — to professional, such as suing a contractor who Vertol Systems Company claimed stole its client list and “trade secrets.” (The contractor was ordered to pay $2,500 and not compete with Vertol Systems Company.)

In 2012, Keefe and Vertol Systems Company sued a Niceville lawn care company, Dogwood Services. An employee of the company who was cutting the grass at the Destin airport hangar ran over a wire attached to one of Vertol’s helicopters.

Vertol said it was entitled to damages, measured by what renting a similar helicopter would cost. The defense argued that the helicopter hadn’t been flown for a month before the incident, and wasn’t flown for four months after repairs.

The judge sided with Vertol Systems. Courtney Smith, then an attorney representing Dogwood, said she remembers it was a highly litigious, back-and-forth case.

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