Reports: Martha’s Vineyard migrant flights recruiter identified

Immigrants gather with their belongings outside St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Wednesday, Sept....
Immigrants gather with their belongings outside St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday flew two planes of immigrants to Martha's Vineyard, escalating a tactic by Republican governors to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration's failed border policies.(Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via AP)
Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 6:25 PM MDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2022 at 7:18 PM MDT
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The mysterious woman who allegedly lured dozens of migrants on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ flights to Martha’s Vineyard from San Antonio has been identified by several media outlets as Perla H. Huerta, a former combat medic and U.S. Army counterintelligence agent living in Tampa.

The New York Times reported late Sunday that a Venezuelan migrant who was working with Huerta to recruit migrants confirmed her identity, and a migrant in San Antonio whom Huerta had unsuccessfully sought to sign up identified a photo of her.

CNN reported that a friend of Huerta confirmed her identity in a photo provided by a migrant. Pictures have been circulating of the woman — until now known simply as “Perla” — after she allegedly recruited many of the 48 Venezuelan migrants outside a city-operated shelter in downtown San Antonio and moved them at a La Quinta Inn, before they were flown to the upscale Massachusetts island at the expense of Florida taxpayers.

The San Antonio Express-News, citing unnamed sources, reported Monday that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, which includes San Antonio, considers Huerta, 43, a “person of interest” in its criminal investigation into the incident.

A sheriff is investigating the flights. (CNN/WCBS/Lawyers for Civil Rights/Facebook/Bexar County Sheriff’s Office/KSAT/WCVB/WFTS/KFOX/WBZ/WLS)

Sheriff’s office spokesman Johnny Garcia said in a statement Monday the office had not confirmed or identified any persons of interest in the ongoing investigation. Asked about Huerta, Garcia had told the Express-News, “We are not publicly identifying anybody.”

The Associated Press tried numerous phone numbers and emails for potential matches for Perla H. Huerta or possible relatives, and got no answer or the lines were disconnected.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has said he’s looking into whether the migrants were lied to or if the two flights last month broke any laws. Some migrants have said they were enticed with McDonald’s gift cards and promises of jobs and housing that never materialized.

U.S. Army spokesperson Madison Bonzo confirmed to the AP that a Perla H. Huerta left the military in August and served as a combat medic and worked in counterintelligence. She held the rank of master sergeant when she left the service and had deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Djibouti.

DeSantis said he used contractors for the operation, but he has refused to release details or the contracts.