A Texas sheriff who had been investigating Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ scheme to relocate 49 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last summer is recommending criminal charges.
In a statement provided to the Globe, a spokesperson for Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said he finished the investigation and has referred the case to prosecutors.
The sheriff recommended several misdemeanor and felony charges of “unlawful restraint,” or kidnapping, according to the statement. No defendant was named, but a spokesperson said more details will made public “once an update is available.” The exact timing of such an update is unclear.
The case now goes to prosecutors in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, to decide whether to act. The district attorney there did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Neither did a spokesperson for DeSantis, who is running for president in 2024.
The announcement came as news broke that two chartered flights of migrants were flown from Texas to Sacramento, prompting accusations from California state officials and others that DeSantis was behind the stunt.
No one at first claimed responsibility for the California flight, however. By contrast, DeSantis immediately took credit last year for the two Martha’s Vineyard flights.
But on Tuesday, the DeSantis administration acknowledged that it coordinated the flights, the Associated Press reported.
Alecia Collins, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said in a statement that “through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California.” She also shared a video compilation that appeared to show people signing consent forms and thanking officials for treating them well.
The clips had no time stamps, and Collins declined to share additional details about when and where they were recorded, the AP said.
The California attorney general had accused the DeSantis administration of recruiting migrants in El Paso and flying them to Sacramento on Friday, saying the migrants “were in possession of documentation purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida.”
“While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said.
Another chartered flight with migrants landed in Sacramento Monday.
Russ Eonas, a spokesman for the Cape & Islands district attorney’s office, declined to say if District Attorney Robert Galibois was weighing his own investigation or potential charges here in Massachusetts.
But Galibois intends to “support the sheriff,” if asked, Eonas said.
Galibois began his term in January as the first Democrat to lead the office since it was created nearly 50 years ago.
”He’s obviously aware of the potential charges in Texas, and he will cooperate with them in any way necessary, anything that is asked of him,” Eonas said.
Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, which filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis on behalf of the migrants transported to the Vineyard, drew similarities between the Vineyard and Sacramento flights. The organization said it dispatched lawyers to Sacramento to help the migrants there.
The Texas sheriff started his investigation into the Martha’s Vineyard flights shortly after the planes landed on the island. In announcing the probe, the sheriff said the migrants were apparently recruited into making the trip from a migrant center in San Antonio by a fellow immigrant who was paid for the work. Most of the migrants were from Venezuela and had crossed the US border in Texas.
Salazar said in a news briefing announcing the investigation in September that his office would look into whether the migrants were “lured . . . under false pretenses” from a Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio and brought — after a brief stop in Florida — to Martha’s Vineyard, “where they were unceremoniously stranded.”
At the time, Governor Charlie Baker said he was pleased a criminal investigation had been launched.
Governor Maura Healey said in a statement Tuesday that criminal charges “are an important step toward accountability for this stunt that used vulnerable human beings as political pawns.”
DeSantis defended the flights to Martha’s Vineyard as his way of making a statement on what he has called the Biden administration’s failed immigration and border policies. He told reporters at the time that “[e]very community in America should be sharing in the burdens. It shouldn’t all fall on a handful of red states.”
State Representative Dylan Fernandes, who represents Martha’s Vineyard, said he was pleased that the sheriff recommended criminal charges.
“Using taxpayer money to round up refugees and lie to them and ship them to an island they’ve never heard of before is cowardly and evil and it turns out may have some severe legal implications as well,” the Falmouth Democrat said. “If you don’t stand up to a bully, they are going to keep picking on people.”
In its federal class action civil rights lawsuit, Lawyers for Civil Rights alleged DeSantis and other officials ran an illegal scheme that exploited vulnerable immigrants with false promises of cash payments and job opportunities.
The organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of the migrants and Alianza Americas, a network of immigrant-led support organizations across the country.
Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.