Ron Desantis

Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

‘You have my full support’: DeSantis’ new campaign manager is being sued for his role in Martha’s Vineyard migrant flights

James Uthmeier was previously DeSantis’ chief of staff.


Marlon Ettinger


Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R-Fla.) campaign continues soaring like Icarus, and, hoping to keep that momentum (or stall its crash), DeSantis has shaken up the campaign again by appointing a new campaign manager, James Uthmeier.

Uthmeier, an attorney who worked for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s office in former President Donald Trump’s administration, was sued last year for his role in a stunt orchestrated by DeSantis which sent migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last September.

The class-action lawsuit filed by almost 50 plaintiffs by a migrant organization details allegations that a slew of DeSantis officials, including Uthmeier, who was chief of staff for DeSantis then, participated in the endeavor. Its purpose was to “lure” the defendants into “two privately chartered planes in San Antonio, Texas,” where they believed that they were headed to a large Northeastern city where “job, housing, and legal assistance” were waiting for them.

Last summer, the complaint alleges, DeSantis sent members of his staff to Texas to gather intelligence on how he could best insert himself into border issues in preparation for his presidential run. The plot to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and “profit from ensuing media coverage,” the complaint alleges, was hatched by DeSantis, his Public Safety Czar Lawrence Keefe, and Uthmeier.

Keefe was tasked with arranging the flights in Texas for the stunt, the lawsuit alleges, and he was aided in the effort by a woman called Perla Huerta from Tampa, who “pos[ed] as a Good Samaritan working on behalf of an anonymous wealthy benefactor and offering Class Plaintiffs food and shelter.”

On Sept. 5, the complaint alleges, Keefe sent a text to Uthmeier saying he was “back out here,” which the complaint clarified meant San Antonio. The complaint quotes Uthmeier’s response to Keefe: “Very good…You have my full support. Call anytime.”

The lawsuit also details cooperation between Texas state officials and DeSantis’ team. 

“Dash” was the codeword for the stunt to send the immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, the complaint alleged. On Sept. 5, Keefe texted Uthmeier about the plan, the complaint details. “TX is aware of Dash, FYI. No worries here.”

“TX is aware and good with Dash? Please confirm,” Uthmeier replied, the suit said.

“Call when convenient,” Keefe answered.

The claims in the lawsuit are backed up by records released surrounding the decision to ship migrants.

The suit also says that later that week Uthmeier shared Keefe’s contact information with Luis Saenz, Governor Greg Abbott’s (R-Texas) chief of staff. “Luis, I’ve asked a guy on my team, Larry Keefe, to be POC [point of contact] here, and he can loop in others as needed,” the complaint says Uthmeier wrote. “He serves as one of the boss’s senior advisors for public safety. He’s a former US Atty under Trump, trustworthy and effective.”

On Sept. 11, the complaint says, the Texas team had collected 50 immigrants for the stunt. Keefe then sent a text message to Uthmeier with the update: “We are at 50,” the lawsuit said he wrote, before asking Uthmeier if they could talk on the phone.

The next day, the complaint says, Huerta texted Keefe and another, unnamed person with the news.

“Yahtzee!! We’re full,” she wrote.

“On information and belief,” the complaint alleges, “all Defendants were aware that Defendant State of Florida was paying for the flights to Martha’s Vineyard; that the flights’ true purpose was to use political dissension over federal immigration policy to boost Defendant DeSantis’s [sic] national profile; that the flights were going from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard; and that no one in Massachusetts would be expecting class Plaintiffs’ arrival.”

Last September after the flights made national news, Uthmeier complained about comparisons criticisms of the stunt by pundits.

“Joe Biden flies planes of immigrants into Florida and it’s perfectly fine,” Uthmeier complained. “@GovRonDeSantis helps them get to wealthy communities that support open border policies and now it’s a hate crime?”

Uthmeier didn’t respond to a request asking him to detail the extent of his role in the scheme. He has also not publicly spoken since being named campaign manager.

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