Woman at center of migrant flights may be local army veteran

Authorities are investigating whether San Antonio-born Perla H. Huerta is the mysterious “Perla” who helped lure 48 Venezuelan immigrants from the San Antonio Migrant Resource Center onto a pair of chartered jets that ferried them to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts on September 13.

Law enforcement sources confirmed that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office considered Huerta – 43, a former Army combat medic who also worked in counterintelligence – a ‘person of interest’ in its criminal investigation. about the incident.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said he is looking into whether the migrants, who were allowed by Border Patrol to stay in the United States while they seek asylum, were deceived or whether the organizers of the airlift breaks the law.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took credit for the flights, saying he used public funds to fly the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard so northern ‘sanctuary communities’ could see what border states are up to. are facing amid a record wave of immigrants. According to lawyers representing several of the migrants, they didn’t know they were going to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts that is a vacation spot for the wealthy, until they landed there.

The thefts took officials there by surprise, sparking a mad rush to provide them with services such as food and emergency shelter.

On Sunday evening, The New York Times reported that a Venezuelan migrant who worked with Huerta to register other migrants for the flights confirmed her identity.

Salazar’s investigators, meanwhile, have been trying to find out more about Huerta, sources told the Express-News.

“We can’t name any names in there because the fact is we don’t know yet that a crime has been committed,” Salazar said when asked about Perla’s identity. “So we cannot name any suspects. We have people who are tentatively identified as persons of interest.

Asked about Huerta, sheriff’s office spokesman Johnny Garcia said, “We are not publicly identifying anyone.”

“I know that name has been aired,” he said. “But we are still trying to obtain all statements from immigrants and investigate further until we are able to identify everyone involved.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis answers questions about migrant flights from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard. It was later discovered that the migrants had been evacuated from San Antonio.

Tiffany Tompkins, MBR/TNS

The investigation is in its early stages and investigators have not yet located or spoken to Huerta or others believed to be involved.

“At this point, we wouldn’t know if anyone is hiding about this investigation,” Garcia said. “At this point, we can’t really know who is involved in this incident.”

The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering a $5,000 cash reward for information about “Perla,” but had previously linked Huerta to the incident after meeting the migrants in Massachusetts.

LULAC tried to determine who she worked for directly. The civil rights organization wants to identify him as part of an effort to prevent politicians from using immigrants as “pawns”.

“We have nothing against Perla. We have nothing against DeSantis,” said the LULAC official, who requested anonymity because management has asked the organization not to make any further statements in light of the criminal investigation. “We just want this (expletive) to stop.”

U.S. Army spokeswoman Madison Bonzo confirmed that Huerta served until August and was a combat medic and worked in counterintelligence.

DeSantis said he used contractors for the operation, but declined to release details or contracts. Online records show that the state of Florida paid more than $1.5 million to Vertol Systems Co. Inc., based in Destin, Fla., for migrant transfers.

Vertol did not fly the planes, but appears to have chartered the flights through Ohio-based Ultimate Jet. A former Ultimate Jet executive who left the company earlier this year told the Express-News that Huerta did not work for Ultimate Jet during his tenure. Current company officials declined to comment.

DeSantis has yet to address his connection to “Perla” and he did not respond to Express-News’ written request for comment on her and Huerta for this story.

Vertol did not respond to detailed voicemails.

Who is Perla Huerta?

Public information about Huerta is limited. Most of the information on social media about him disappeared over the weekend after the robberies. Her Facebook and LinkedIn pages and posts by others linked to her have either been deleted or restricted.

A photo on one of those Facebook pages showed her with blonde hair. Another photo of her – published two years ago in Hays County’s Hays Free Press – shows her with darker hair when she attended a screening of ‘The Breakfast Club’ with an appearance by the actor Anthony Michael Hall.

Numerous attempts were made to contact Huerta via publicly available contact information, including his cell phone number. Additionally, messages were left at the homes of some of her close relatives in San Antonio, and voicemail messages were left for her in-laws in Colorado and a husband or ex-husband in North Carolina.

A relative of one of Huerta’s brothers in San Antonio confirmed that the Facebook photo was Huerta.

Former neighbors had trouble remembering details about Huerta in San Antonio or North Carolina. She lived in both locations with a husband, records show.

A military ID card and other documents reviewed by the Express-News show that Huerta was an army noncommissioned officer. She was deployed to Iraq twice between 2003 and 2009, and four times to Afghanistan between 2010 and 2019, Army spokesman Bonzo said.

Huerta held the rank of master sergeant when she left the army in August.

Public records show she was born in San Antonio and raised at a family compound near Sandy Oaks in southeast Bexar County. One of his brothers operates a small trucking business and an LLC related to his family runs a liquor store at a strip club in Sandy Oaks, records show.

A message seeking a comment left at the liquor store.

Huerta graduated from Southside High School, class of 1996, and was married to a fellow soldier after joining the military, according to other documents.

The couple lived in San Antonio, then in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, one of the Army’s largest posts.

CASE ?'  A migrant tries on a new pair of sneakers outside St. Andrew?•s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha?•s Vineyard, September 15, 2022. Little has been said by the governor's administration.  Ron DeSantis of Florida on the role played by state transportation officials in arranging or coordinating flights that transported Venezuelan asylum seekers from Texas to Massachusetts.  (Matt Cosby/The New York Times)

CASE ?’ A migrant tries on a new pair of sneakers outside St. Andrew?•s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha?•s Vineyard, September 15, 2022. Little has been said by the governor’s administration. Ron DeSantis of Florida on the role played by state transportation officials in arranging or coordinating flights that transported Venezuelan asylum seekers from Texas to Massachusetts. (Matt Cosby/The New York Times)

MATT COSBY, STR/NYT

Since 2018, she has lived in Tampa, Florida, near MacDill Air Force Base, home to US Central Command. Known as CENTCOM, the command is responsible for protecting US security interests from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia.

Public records show Huerta had had a Texas driver’s license under her married last name, Wilbur, since she was 19. But Florida records show her driver’s license was reissued in May 2019 with just her maiden name. It is not known if she is divorced or separated.

“I believe she was military,” said the former owner of Huerta’s Tampa home, who requested anonymity. “I don’t believe she had a husband with her at that time.”

Real estate records show she paid $335,000 for the three-bedroom townhouse.

A neighbor, Daniel Palmer, said Huerta lived there with a daughter, who was probably no older than 10. Huerta adored the girl and had asked a relative to stay to help her, he said.

Real estate records show Huerta listed the condo for sale this summer for $549,900.

She received a cash offer the same weekend after the migrant flights, according to her real estate agent. But the deal apparently failed. It went on sale again last week at a reduced price, $489,000.

But where Huerta went is unclear.

“She told me…she was considering moving to Europe,” Palmer said. “I don’t know if she was joking or if she was serious.”

Was there deception?

It is unclear when migrants began to be recruited for DeSantis flights. But it is apparent from several of their accounts that more than one person worked to line up the migrants for the flights.

The most consistent story is that ‘Perla’ offered migrants $10 McDonalds gift cards and then paid at least one Venezuelan immigrant living on the streets of San Antonio, ‘Emanuel’, $200 to recruit migrants for flights from the migrant center.

The false promises made to the migrants included job opportunities, free schooling for their children and help with immigration to Massachusetts, according to the migrants’ lawyers.

DeSantis told Fox News that the migrants all left voluntarily and had signed consent forms given to them in English and Spanish. But lawyers said the documents were not fully translated and that the pamphlets and documents given to migrants about alleged Martha’s Vineyard services were misleading.

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