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DeSantis' refusal to release records about migrant flights part of 'pattern'

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Steve Cannon
/
AP Photo
Gov. Ron DeSantis' office is withholding records related to the flying of nearly 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard on Sept. 14, 2022. A government watchdog group is suing for the documents.

A government watchdog group is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis for public records that would shed more light on a scheme to fly nearly 50 Venezuelans to Martha's Vineyard.

“We got zero records of what we actually requested and got a lot of stuff that we didn’t request," said Michael Berfield, public access director for the Florida Center for Government Accountability, the organization that filed the lawsuit.

Three weeks ago, the center sent its first request for text messages, emails and call logs of those involved in the "planning and execution" of transporting the immigrants from San Antonio, Texas to Massachusetts. The request also sought copies of waivers that they might've signed before boarding the flights.

Under state law, government agencies must release the records or explain why they're exempt. But DeSantis' office did neither, Berfield said. Instead, the office emailed documents showing bids from charter flight companies competing for a state contract to transport migrants, he said.

“We have a right to know in a timely manner," Berfield said. "We haven’t received anything yet.”

Berfield says this is part of a pattern under the DeSantis administration.

“This same pattern of delay, delay delay, provide records that actually aren’t responsive," he said. "We think that the court should address that to prevent future violations, and that’s something that we’re looking at very closely.”

The center filed the lawsuit in the Leon County Circuit Court for the Second Judicial Circuit on Monday. The complaint seeks a quick hearing and a judge's order directing DeSantis' office to release the records immediately.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.