Before this year, I had never run for political office before, so I’d also never lost before. After the August primary, having done both, I was ready for a break from politics. Since 2020 when I took on Ron DeSantis over COVID-19 safety, and took to Florida beaches as the Grim Reaper, to starting the Remove Ron PC to help defeat DeSantis in the 2022 election, to running for Florida Attorney General myself, I had been so laser-focused on the things going on in our state and our country, I had neglected other parts of my life.
So I tried to take a break. Maybe tweet a little less. I got caught up on legal work, my son, Henry, had his bar mitzvah, and (under the direction of my wife, Michelle) we began to undertake some long-needed home repairs.
And then the Governor decided to carry out, as if in the plot of a movie produced by Breitbart, a multistate kidnapping operation, that took two planes of Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, with a stopover in my backyard, here in the Florida Panhandle. Oh boy.
As soon as I heard the news about DeSantis’ political posturing by way of human trafficking, I knew the real story had to be even more insidious and craven than what was initially being reported. Surprise, surprise. It was.
Besides the obvious human tragedy of our Governor’s scheme to move desperate people across the country like chattel in service of a political stunt, how it all came together and who got paid is also scandalous. So far over $1.5 million of taxpayer dollars has been paid out to Vertol Systems (headquartered in Destin, less than 20 miles west of where I live), for exactly three charter flights, one of which was completely empty and cost nearly $1 million alone.
According to the Miami Herald, Vertol is an aviation company whose “primary business is training pilots for the military and providing helicopters across the globe.”
Not exactly an obvious choice for DeSantis’ migrant transportation program. The company doesn’t even have a working website which shut down immediately after I exposed them.
What Vertol does have, I was able to help uncover, is deep connections to the Governor and his political operation, by way of DeSantis’ “public safety czar,” Larry Keefe. Keefe was Vertol’s lawyer on over a dozen cases between 2010 and 2017, and also the guy responsible for doling $1.56 million out to them for a project where the Herald reports, “State officials haven’t said how they chose Vertol Systems, whether the state solicited multiple bids for the work as required by the Legislature, or even released the state’s contract with the company.”
Two other Panhandle influence peddlers who I’ve encountered many times over the years also play bit parts in this game of fools. Another politically connected former attorney for Vertol? The Governor’s best friend he wished he never knew, Matt “She said she was 19″ Gaetz. And one of Vertol’s business partners is none other than Jay Odom, the twice indicted, once convicted, Northwest Florida businessman who, despite his criminal record, carries significant influence in the affairs of Panhandle Republicans.
And you know what they say about cockroaches, right? If you see a couple on the ground, that means there are a thousand more in the walls.
So, yeah. My “break” was short-lived.
After the past two weeks chasing DeSantis and his cronies down the rabbit hole of this scandal, I am more committed than ever to doing everything in my power to make sure Ron DeSantis doesn’t see another term as Governor, and that we keep him as far away from the White House as possible. I’m rejoining the organization I founded, Remove Ron, as a Senior Adviser and redoubling my efforts to hold this Governor accountable and expose him as the wannabe dictator that he is.
Daniel Uhlfelder is an attorney who lives in Santa Rosa Beach.