Ron DeSantis: Stolen valor, stolen taxpayers’ money, stolen lives

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is a lot of things, none of them good and one quite unforgivable. Just as he did in his 2018 race for governor, DeSantis has rolled out a television ad highlighting his “pumped up” Navy service. That service continues in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where DeSantis – who routinely questions the authority of his Commander-in-Chief, President Biden – wears the uniform of a Lieutenant Commander in the Judge Advocate General Corps. DeSantis’s political ad features him wearing various uniforms, including dress whites on which he displays a row of medals along with the Fleet Marine Force insignia. DeSantis, whose collateral duty during active service included that of “Awards Officer,” has made it a point of having his political ad, titled “Honor, Courage, Commitment,” focus on his chest of medals while having praise heaped upon him by his former JAG Corps commanding officer, retired Navy Captain Daniel Bean, now a Jacksonville, Florida attorney. Bean formerly served as a managing partner of the Republican-tilting Holland & Knight law firm.

There is no Navy “honor” in DeSantis and his friend Bean using the Navy uniform in a political promotion. That is not only a violation of Navy Regulations but also the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits such outrageous behavior. From Generals George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower to Air Force Reserve Major General Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona and former 82nd Airborne Army Ranger Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana most military members-turned-politicians have ditched their uniform while serving in office. That is not the case with DeSantis.

DeSantis’s actions in mixing his Navy status with his far-right Republican politics also borders on a flagrant case of “stolen valor.” Another one of DeSantis’s campaign ads features him wearing a flight suit and suggesting that he is “Top Gov,” a play on the recent “Top Gun: Maverick” movie, which reprises Tom Cruise’s role as a Navy fighter pilot. The Lincoln Project released a video that cited DeSantis in a flight suit as a “poser.” He’s much worse than that.

DeSantis, like his erstwhile friend and supporter Donald Trump, promotes a “transactional” management style. That is the fancy name the corporate media came up with to describe a willingness to offer and accept bribes. DeSantis’s transactional deal with Bean was to appoint him to the board of the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT). In return, Bean praises DeSantis as some sort of war hero.

In the TV ad, Bean appears on the deck of the USS Orleck (DD-886), which, as President of the Jacksonville Bar Association, he helped to have moved in 2010 to the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, where it now sits as a museum ship next to the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Bean, who calls himself “Captain Dan,” in reference to the role played by Gary Sinise in the movie “Forrest Gump,” also wears a cap of the USS Fanning (FF-1076), which was decommissioned in 1993. No one should be fooled by DeSantis’s “museum Navy” and his row of medals – this Navy veteran would not put it past DeSantis to have recommended himself for one or more of those dongles – or he and Mr. Bean trying to pass themselves off as modern-day Admiral Chester Nimitzes. DeSantis and Bean served as restricted line officers, meaning they are nothing more than lawyers in uniform not authorized to operationally command a Navy tugboat. The fact that DeSantis must rely on movies to hype his lackluster Navy record is a definite sign of a poseur and a complete and utter fraud.

The Navy JAG Corps, the TV show “JAG” aside, does not have an exemplary record. Its last folly saw a Navy Seaman acquitted at a court-martial in San Diego after he was charged with setting fire to the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in 2020. The JAG Corps prosecutors offered no concrete evidence against the sailor, charged with arson and hazarding a vessel. That did not stop Capt. Jason Jones, one of DeSantis’s fellow JAG officers, from arguing that there was sufficient evidence to convict the sailor on both counts.

DeSantis served as a legal adviser to Navy SEAL Team 1 in Fallujah, Iraq and at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. DeSantis has proven himself to be so much of a serial liar as a Congressman and Governor, there is no telling how many innocent people, those like acquitted Seaman Ryan Mays in San Diego, were railroaded by DeSantis and his JAG Corps pals in Iraq, Cuba, or Jacksonville. In a display of utter contempt for the electoral process and the will of the electorate, DeSantis recently fired the elected Democratic State’s Attorney for Hillsborough County, Andrew Warren, and replaced him with a Republican toady. Although DeSantis claimed that he fired Warren for the Democrat’s opposition to enforcing DeSantis’s abortion law, it now appears that DeSantis had darker motives.

DeSantis, who is facing a lawsuit by Venezuelan migrants who were trafficked by DeSantis from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts under false pretenses, as well as a criminal investigation by the Bexar County, Texas Sheriff, may have sacked Warren because there is a connection to DeSantis’s human trafficking stunt and Warren’s former jurisdiction of Hillsborough County. DeSantis relied on the services of Perla Huerta, a former Army medic and counterintelligence operative, who was discharged from the Army in August, just a few weeks before she misrepresented herself to 48 mainly Venezuelan asylum-seeking migrants in San Antonio. It was Perla who convinced 48 migrants to accept a free flight from San Antonio, via Crestview, Florida, to Martha’s Vineyard, where they were falsely promised jobs waiting for them. The asylum-seekers were handed bogus brochures in English and Spanish detailing “Refugee Migrant Benefits” and a statement that “Massachusetts Welcomes You.” The operation was paid for out of DeSantis’s $12 million slush fund designed to “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.” However, none of the 48 migrants were in Florida. They were awaiting their asylum approval hearings in Texas pursuant to federal immigration law.

Huerta is a resident of Tampa in Hillsborough County and, thus, Andrew Warren, had he not been dismissed by DeSantis, would have been within his rights to investigate Huerta for engaging in a criminal conspiracy involving DeSantis and other Republican officials, possibly including Florida Panhandle Congressman Matt Gaetz, in human trafficking. In firing Warren, DeSantis limited his legal exposure in Hillsborough County, particularly a joint criminal investigation of DeSantis’s migrant moving operation by Warren and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.

The plane used to transport the 48 migrants from San Antonio to Massachusetts was owned by Vertol Systems of Destin, Florida. The company received two payments from DeSantis’s slush fund—$615,000 for “Project 1” and $950,000 for “Projects two and three.” Not only could that money be useful for recovery after Hurricane Ian devastated southwest Florida, but it also turns out that it was paid out to a company with close political ties to Gaetz. Vertol Systems Company, Inc. has a murky past, having originally been incorporated in Hillsboro, Oregon in 1996 and resurfacing operationally as a Florida corporation in 2011. Vertol’s owner is James Montgomerie, a past donor to the campaigns of Gaetz and other Republicans in the state. Vertol is also listed as a managing member of another firm called Zeppelin Holdings of Destin. Jay Odom, the owner of Zeppelin, was sentenced to six months in federal prison in 2013 for “causing a presidential campaign committee to make a false statement to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).”

Vertol is linked to two limited liability corporations: Crestview Hangar #51 LLC with Montgomerie listed with an address in Tigard, Oregon and VSC Aircraft Maintenance LLC of Destin and formerly of Hillsboro, Oregon. Gaetz, who is an attorney, and his former law partner, Larry Keefe, both represented Vertol Systems. Keefe now serves as DeSantis’s Public Safety Coordinator in charge of enforcing immigration policy, which, itself, is in the sole domain of the federal government.

DeSantis has adopted the fascist Republican policies being enacted across the United States by other governors and local elected officials and Hurricane Ian has provided him with new ways to amass personal power and money. One of DeSantis’s first post-hurricane acts was to announce the creation of the private Florida Disaster Fund, which is competing with the Red Cross, Salvation Army, World Central Kitchen, and other charitable organizations to solicit private donations for “hurricane relief.” And who did DeSantis place in charge of the fund? His wife, Casey DeSantis. The fund, which has already received $10 million in donations, is unlike most other public charities in that there is no oversight of how this “Bonnie and Clyde” of disaster grifting spends the donated money. This is particularly egregious during DeSantis’s gubernatorial re-election campaign in which he is vastly outspending his Democrat opponent, former Governor Charlie Crist.

DeSantis is also re-enacting another fascist policy first witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic. DeSantis lied about the actual number of Florida deaths from the pandemic while trying to re-open Florida’s businesses. He also fired and later had arrested Rebekah Jones, the Florida Department of Health’s geo-data manager in charge of tracking the actual number of Covid deaths in the state. Jones in now the Democratic candidate challenging Gaetz for his U.S. House seat. DeSantis, who eschewed almost every public health restriction advocated by federal and state authorities, demonstrated his absolute stupidity by showing the world that he did not know how to properly wear a face mask. It would be hoped that he doesn’t wear a jock strap like he wore a face mask.

DeSantis is now parading around hurricane-stricken southwest Florida wearing new shiny white boots, designed to show, quite falsely, that he has a handle on the recovery efforts. Not only did DeSantis stall in ordering the evacuation of Lee County, which, in part, bore the brunt of Ian, but is now barring the press from accessing barrier islands like Pine, Sanibel, and Captiva in order to prevent them from reporting the actual number of corpses being recovered from flood waters, mangroves, and the wreckage of homes and other structures.

DeSantis, being quite the fraud and cheat when it comes to his Navy background, his human trafficking stunt, and the lives of Floridians does not require his shiny white boots to wade through flood waters. The boots are needed for the deep amount of bullshit he his fellow GOP fraudsters, fakes, and phonies have left throughout the Sunshine State. DeSantis has his eyes on the White House. He belongs in the “big house.”

Note: DeSantis has refused to disclose his Navy Officer’s Fitness Reports to multiple Florida news organizations that have requested them.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2022

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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