TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – U.S. Representative Charlie Crist announced Sunday he has sent a letter to Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson, asking that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate concerns surrounding Governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to establish vaccination sites in wealthy neighborhoods, such as Lakewood Ranch.
A release from Crist’s office says DeSantis has established “coronavirus vaccine distribution and administration sites to benefit political allies and donors, over the needs of higher-risk communities and existing county waitlists.”
Crist says the governor is prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines for “Republican-leaning communities,” causing him to turn “his back on communities with higher COVID infection and death rates.”
Now, Crist is asking that the DOJ investigates if DeSantis’ actions violate federal law, warranting a full federal investigation.
“Time and time again, Governor DeSantis has proven he is not up to the task of leading our state out of this pandemic as he continues to play politics with the health and well-being of vulnerable Floridians,” said Crist. “So far, over 30,000 Floridians have died and at least 1.8 million more have gotten sick, with minority communities and seniors hit the hardest. Instead of prioritizing people most at risk, the Governor has chosen – during the worst pandemic in a century – to help out his friends and donors. That is why I’m calling on the Department of Justice to investigate.”
Earlier this week, DeSantis announced, in partnership with Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, to set up a pop-up vaccination site for residents in the 34202 and 34211 zip codes. Census data shows the two zip codes have median household incomes 75 to 85% higher than the county average.
When asked about the issue, DeSantis told reporters, “we wanted to find communities that had high levels of seniors living there and this obviously has a high concentration.”
However, data shows neighboring zip codes have more seniors and more virus cases.
DeSantis wasn’t the only one under fire. Commissioner Baugh later issued an apology to county residents after she added herself and four others to a “VIP” list to get the vaccine at the already-exclusive clinic in Lakewood Ranch.
“It is true that I sent the email because I wanted to make sure certain people were on the list,” Baugh said.
Below is Crist’s full letter to Wilkinson:
Dear Acting Attorney General Wilkinson,
I write with concern about reports that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is establishing coronavirus vaccine distribution and administration sites in select locations to benefit political allies and donors, over the needs of higher risk communities and existing county waitlists.
As reported by multiple news outlets, the Governor is setting up “pop-up” vaccination sites to deliver doses to select communities. In several cases, these sites seem to be targeted to wealthy communities with whom Governor DeSantis has clear political connections, allowing some to skip to the front of the line in counties with existing waitlists. For example, on February 17th, Governor DeSantis made a surprise announcement that 3,000 new vaccine doses would be made available to the wealthy enclave of Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County. Lakewood Ranch’s parent company is owned by one of the largest Republican donors in the country, including contributing over $900,000 to the Governor. The ZIP codes in question have the highest income levels and lowest COVID infection rates in the county.
Defeating the COVID-19 pandemic must be our top priority. Given the enormous latitude Governors have over vaccine distribution, it would be unconscionable for political corruption to trump both fairness and the best medical guidance. These are literally life and death decisions. While I am anxious for every Floridian, in every community, to get the vaccine as soon as possible, it should be done based on fairness, not political connection. As a former Governor and Attorney General, these issues of equity and fairness matter deeply to me. I request that the Department of Justice determine if the Governor’s blatantly political vaccine distribution decisions, which do not seem to be in the public’s best interest, violate federal law and merit a full federal investigation.
UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN