Former Army medic, counterintelligence agent accused of tricking migrants into flying to Martha’s Vineyard

Edgartown Chief of Police Bruce R. McNamee helps Venezuelan migrants onto a bus at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. A group of 48 migrants was left stranded after being flown to the island from Texas earlier this week. They are being transferred to a military base in Cape Cod.

Will Katcher

masslive.com

A woman accused of luring Venezuelan migrants in Texas into flying to Martha’s Vineyard last month was identified Sunday by the New York Times as a former U.S. Army medic and counterintelligence agent working on behalf of the state of Florida.

Officials in Texas are now reportedly investigating the same woman and whether any laws were violated when four dozen Venezuelans were recruited to fly to Massachusetts with false promises of jobs and shelter.

The Times reported Sunday that the woman — Perla Huerta, who was discharged from the military in August after two decades of service — was dispatched on behalf of Florida to San Antonio last month to fill the planes bound for Massachusetts with migrants. On Monday, the Boston Globe reported that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in San Antonio believed her to be the person who recruited the migrants, though a department spokesperson denied to the paper that investigators had identified a “person of interest.”

The migrants who appeared in Martha’s Vineyard last month, left on the island through a program funded by the state of Florida, have said they were tricked into boarding flights north with promises of support services and financial assistance, the Times report on Sunday found.

“We were tricked in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico — and then in the United States,” Carlos Guanaguanay, 25, told the New York Times. Pablo, another man, reportedly phoned his wife from a community center in Martha’s Vineyard shortly after arriving: “My love, we were tricked,” he said. “This woman lied to us. She lied.”

Huerta has since disappeared, migrants told the Globe. When they contacted her on the smartphone messaging service WhatsApp, Huerta read the messages but did not respond, migrants told the paper.

A Venezuelan man who helped Huerta sign migrants up for the voyage to Massachusetts told the Times he felt betrayed — she had never mentioned working for the Florida government.

“I was also lied to,” he said. “If I had known, I would not have gotten involved.” Huerta had simply said that “she wanted to help people head up north.”

The Globe reported Monday that Huerta appeared to be in search of Venezuelans when she approached migrants outside an immigration resource center in San Antonio, promising resources, support services and a fresh start in the North.

“I thought it was some kind of special program for Venezuelan immigration,” one person identified only as Carlos told the Globe. “But it was all a trick.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office quickly claimed credit for organizing the migrants’ trip after they arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, ostensibly as an effort to draw attention to immigration policies he and other Republican governors have criticized.

“States like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden Administration’s open border policies,” DeSantis Communications Director Taryn Fenske said the day the migrants arrived in Massachusetts.

The Times report on Sunday indicated that the government funding of the migrant flights was possibly in violation of Florida state law.

The trip was funded by a $12 million item in the Florida state budget meant “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.” With the migrants originating in Texas — not Florida — several Florida Democrats and watchdogs have said the money was misused.

“They crafted this bill, they set the rules of the game, and they can’t even comply with it,” State Sen. Jason Pizzo told the Times. He is suing the state in a Florida court hoping to block further spending on migrant transportation flights.

Michael Barfield, director of public access at the Florida Center for Government Accountability, told the paper the state of Florida was being “deliberately opaque” about the flights. “I do believe there is a misuse of state funds,” he said.

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