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

Steve Cannon
AP Photo

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.

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Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.