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DeSantis Transferred $92 Million to Project Helping Developer Who Donated to Him

One newspaper questioned whether the revelations demonstrated a “too-cozy” relationship between DeSantis and his donors.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visits "Jesse Watters Primetime" at Grimaldi's Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria on 6th Avenue in Manhattan on June 29, 2023, in New York City.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration is planning to use $92 million of leftover COVID-19 federal relief funds to help pay for a highway interchange, a project that directly benefits one of his major donors, a new report finds.

According to The Washington Post, which filed an open records request to uncover much of the information in its reporting, an interchange project near Daytona Beach, Florida, will hugely benefit a housing developer named Mori Hosseini, who pursued the project for years. Late last year, the project was approved by the DeSantis administration following the governor’s reelection win and several thousands of dollars in donations from Hosseini to DeSantis and political groups supporting him.

The I-95 interchange project — in which $92 million of the total $126 million came from federal funds meant to help Florida during the coronavirus pandemic — will include the building of access roads that go onto property owned by Hosseini, who intends to develop the land, currently forestry, into housing and commercial projects. The original plan for the I-95 interchange did not include those access roads in 2021, but they were included in updated plans in 2022.

Critics of the plan say it will pollute local waterways and disturb sensitive wetland areas nearby.

The project, which Hosseini is calling “Woodhaven,” would have happened “with or without the interchange,” the developer said. But the added access roads will make it easier and more convenient for passersby to exit the interstate to his commercial projects, instead of having to exit up the highway and take backroads to get there.

Prior to the updated plans for the interchange, Hosseini had given DeSantis thousands of dollars worth of gifts. The housing developer has, for example, allowed the Florida governor private use of his plane on several occasions, The Post noted. Hosseini also donated a golf simulator to the governor’s mansion worth nearly $30,000 in 2019, and during the 2022 campaign, Hosseini’s companies supported political groups aligned with DeSantis to the tune of at least $361,000.

Though DeSantis was vehemently opposed to the Biden administration sending millions of dollars to states during the COVID-19 pandemic to aid them with spending related to the crisis, he has found disturbing ways to spend the money his state was given, including funding road projects.

DeSantis has also reportedly spent COVID relief dollars on a xenophobic scheme to send migrants seeking asylum in Florida to states with liberal-progressive leanings, in a supposed effort to showcase how those areas were somehow hypocritical in their views. (Notably, residents of these areas responded by providing food, shelter and care to migrants until longer-term solutions could be realized.) The migrants sent by DeSantis and his aids had been deceived into believing there would be shelter and jobs waiting for them and their families, only to be stranded with nothing upon arriving.

On Thursday, The Mimi Herald editorial board published an op-ed in response to the new reporting on DeSantis, who in 2018 pledged to “drain the swamp” in Florida politics. In it, the editorial board rejected a DeSantis administration official’s claim that the interchange project “will help keep up with Florida’s growing population.”

“This isn’t about whether we need more houses — though it should be noted there has been significant push-back against the idea of developing this project so close to environmentally sensitive lands. It’s about whether the governor of Florida and now presidential candidate is in a too-cozy relationship with a developer,” the editorial board wrote.

Citing The Post’s reporting, which noted the project benefiting Hosseini was expedited by “more than a decade,” The Miami Herald editorial board asked at the end of its missive: “Does that sound like draining the swamp to you?”

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