Gov. Abbott’s office aware of migrants’ flight from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, texts show

State of Texas denied involvement with the flight

SAN ANTONIO – Governor Greg Abbott’s office was aware of the flight of migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard before takeoff last month.

The State of Texas has denied any involvement with that flight. However, text messages released by Abbott’s office in response to a public information request show otherwise.

The Florida Center for Government Accountability submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Abbott’s office.

In an email to KSAT, the Florida Center for Government Accountability said, “Those records indicated that Mr. (James) Uthmeier was introducing Mr. (Larry) Keefe to Luis Saenz (Gov. Abbott’s Chief of Staff) as the point of contact for Gov. DeSantis.”

Texts show Governor Abbott’s Office aware of flight of migrants from SA to Martha’s Vineyard. Texts obtained through a FOIA request made by the Florida Center for Government Accountability. (Florida Center for Government Accountability)

Public records released by Governor Ron DeSantis’ office last week show screenshots of texts between Uthmeier and Keefe.

On Monday, Sept. 5, Keefe texted in part, “I’m back out here,” referring to San Antonio. Uthmeier replied, “Very good. You have my full support. Call anytime.”

Later that evening, Uthmeier followed up with, “Texas is aware of Dash, FYI. No worries here.”

Screenshots of text messages show communication between top aides for DeSantis’ Office before and after migrant flight. (Office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis)

The nearly 200 documents lay out the program, including the quotes from three companies. DeSantis’ office eventually opted for Vertol Systems Company, Inc.

The total cost is not made fully clear through the documents releases. However, DeSantis’ office was quoted for a minimum of $26,000 for five people from Florida to Massachusetts. The prices, according to an email from a Vertol Systems Company and the Florida Department of Transportation, depend on the distance and those on board.

According to the public records, Florida’s Department of Transportation received $12 million from the State’s COVID Fiscal Recovery Fund. An ABC news report said a Florida Treasury Department watchdog plans to run an audit to determine if the funds were appropriately used.

DeSantis’ office now faces multiple lawsuits. Documents suggest they anticipated a legal battle. According to HB 5001 Section 182, “The nonrecurring sum of $1,500,000 from the General Revenue Fund is appropriated to the Department of State for Fiscal Year 2021-2022, for litigation.”

Documents suggest DeSantis’ office anticipated a legal battle. $1.5 million were allocated for litigation. (Office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis)

KSAT reached out to both DeSantis’ and Abbott’s offices for comments. We are still waiting to hear back.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.

Landon Lowe is a news producer for KSAT 12. He previously worked at the NBC/Fox affiliate in Baton Rouge, LA, where he was the senior news producer and political producer.