The Florida lawmaker is suing DeSantis to block migrant flights from the border


State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, says DeSantis illegally spent taxpayer dollars flying migrants from San Antonio to Massachusetts Island. Last year, lawmakers approved $12 million for a migrant transportation program, but the state budget specified that the money would go toward relocating “unauthorized aliens in this state.”

On Wednesday, Pizzo told CNN, “But if we’re able to get this on a man or a woman in black, how the hell is the state going to say that one of those people is from Florida?”

In response to the lawsuit, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske told CNN on Thursday, “Senator Pizzo never misses an opportunity for his 15 minutes of fame and challenges an action on an appropriations bill that he voted for.”

DeSantis has vowed to transport more migrants across the border, telling reporters Friday that the flights to Martha’s Vineyard were “just the beginning.”

The case was filed in the circuit court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Florida. Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, a DeSantis appointee, and Finance Director-elect Jimmy Patronis, a Republican, are listed as defendants.

CNN reached out to Perdue and Patronis, but did not immediately receive a response.

Patronis spokesman Frank Collins said a tweet in part: “We are receiving the right and are currently exploring the options for sanctions and/or countermeasures.”
DeSantis took credit for two flights that took about 48 migrants from the southern border to Martha’s Vineyard last week in a headline gaffe that has brought the country’s immigration crisis to the forefront of the affluent vacation town. DeSantis said the action was paid for with $12 million appropriated by the Legislature this year and promised to use “every penny.”

Asked repeatedly about the justification for moving migrants to a city 700 miles from Florida’s west coast, DeSantis said he is trying to stem the flow of migrants from their source to Florida. He said the state “profiles” people in Texas as potential migrants to the Sunshine State, offering them flights to Martha’s Vineyard instead.

Pizzo, who is suing DeSantis as a state citizen, also alleges in the lawsuit that the state failed to meet other requirements for spending the money. The lawsuit alleges that the Florida Department of Transportation never created a program to transport migrants, nor did the department receive at least two quotes to hire a relocation company, another requirement of the law.

CNN has requested contracts and bid proposals related to the flights from DeSantis’ office and the Florida Department of Transportation. So far nothing has been given.

Budget records reviewed by CNN show two payments to Destin, Florida-based aviation company Vertol Systems as part of the migrant relocation program. The initial payment of $615,000 was made by the Florida Department of Transportation on September 8, six days before the Martha’s Vineyard flight. On September 16 there was another payment of $950,000.

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In addition to the flights, DeSantis also confirmed to Fox host Sean Hannity that the migrants were being put up in hotels and given haircuts and other services before being taken to Martha’s Vineyard.

The planes touched down in Crestview, Florida, a small city in the Panhandle.

Pizzo alleged in the lawsuit that the state also violated a new law championed by DeSantis that prohibits state agencies from contracting with companies that transport “unauthorized aliens.” While there is debate over whether the people picked up at the border are “unauthorized aliens,” Pizzo said the state violated this new law by bringing those people to Florida.

If the DeSantis administration argues that the migrants are not “unauthorized aliens,” it would once again violate the parameters of the migrant relocation program, Pizzo told CNN.

“They were transporting unauthorized aliens into the state? Because it’s a no-no,” Pizzo said. “Oh they’re not, well then they weren’t entitled to carry at all.”

“If we’re talking about 48 people somewhere in Florida, and they’re going to fly somewhere else, I wouldn’t raise the issue of feeding them, lodging them and giving them a haircut,” he added. “But FDOT, a highway construction agency, is spending money outside of Florida on food pantries and other services to people who have no connection, connection, jurisdiction to the state. A fifth grader would understand why that’s not allowed.”

The lawsuit called for an emergency case management conference and hearing and asked for “expedited timelines” to prevent future flights.