TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Amid ongoing legal battles over September’s migrant flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, paid for by Florida tax dollars, the Office of Open Government reported Larry Keefe, the public safety czar, had used a private email with a codename while planning parts of the flights.
Using a private email, Keefe and Montgomerie discussed different aspects of the planned flights from Texas. Keefe told OOG that it was an account he sometimes used during his days of private law practice.
The safety czar’s use of a private email led to relevant communications from being included in prior record disclosures related to the migrant flights.
After the 48 migrants were transported from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 14, multiple civil lawsuits and an investigation by the U.S. Treasury were opened. Keefe’s use of a private email was disclosed in response to requests for further documents from a lawsuit filed by the Florida Center for Government Accountability.
WFLA.com has reached out to the governor’s office about their knowledge of the private email and codename used while conducting state business.
When asked by OOG about missing records and additional documents related to the migrant flight relocation program, OOG said Keefe told them to look for a keyword in their search, “Heat.”
OOG said Keefe told them “Heat 19” was a call sign he had been known to use during his military career. Subsequent search led them to a private Gmail account called “heat19.heat19,” with the name “Clarice Starling,” an FBI agent from Robert Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novel “The Silence of the Lambs.” Keefe told OOG the Starling name was also a call sign he’d been given during previous “private work with people in the military community.”
Communications from Keefe to Montgomerie using the “Heat19” email show he communicated with Montgomerie’s own private email, rather than one for the Vertol company he owned.
Their correspondence contained discussion of invoice drafts for the flights, as well as the proposal by Vertol to the Florida Department of Transportation to bid on the relocation program. The emails show Keefe sending Montgomerie draft language for the program submission, detailing the pitch.
In the draft sent by Keefe to Montgomerie, relocation of migrants to Massachusetts was a specifically mentioned goal, though it also mentioned “other, proximate northeastern state[s]” designated by FDOT for the program.
“The proposed Services include, but are not limited to, the management, aircraft, crew, maintenance logistics, fuel, coordination and planning, route preparation, route services, landing fees, ground handling and logistics and other Project-related expenses,” Keefe’s draft proposal to Montgomerie reads. It included a proposal to cap flights at 65 passengers. Both the proposal by Keefe and the subsequent submission by Montgomerie refer to the relocation as humanitarian projects.
Among details for the program, the only portion left blank in Keefe’s email was a price estimate for “Project 1.”
That project, the only flight to have been carried out, ended up costing $615,000 from the $12 million appropriated for relocation by the Florida Legislature. Montgomerie’s memo to a state purchasing administrator for the program refers to a total of three planned projects, with the second and third totaling $950,000.
While the $950,000 was paid to Vertol, shown in records from state-operated TransparencyFlorida, the flights were to be split.
Project 2 was proposed for a $425,000 cost, while Project 3 had the remaining $525,000 of the nearly $1 million from the second payment to Vertol.
Additional documents published by OOG show text messages between Montgomerie and Keefe regarding travel planning, hotel information, FDOT funds, and the planes used.
Montgomerie texted a preview image of sorts to Keefe on Sept. 7, showing the Fairchild Dornier 328 plane, the type used to fly the migrants to Massachusetts.
Montgomerie texted the picture with the message “Wednesdays ride x 2,” to Keefe, who responded “Copy. Very nice,” as the two coordinated the flights.
Additional texts between Keefe and Perla Huerta, who helped recruit migrants for the flights in Texas, date back to mid-August, including hotel reservation details, plans for rental vehicles, and food reimbursements, among other discussions.
WFLA is still awaiting response from the governor’s office, regarding the use of private email for coordination from Keefe.