U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist has sent a letter to acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson to investigate concerns over favoritism in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vaccine distribution in Manatee County.
The call for an investigation comes less than a week after the Governor announced a community pod negotiated through Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen. The site controversially served only residents of two wealthy ZIP codes, providing about 3,000 vaccines for COVID-19 to residents in the area age 65 and older.
In his letter, Crist said DeSantis established the vaccination sites “to benefit political allies and donors, over the needs of higher risk communities and existing county waitlists.”
Crist is pushing for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether the Governor’s actions violate federal law and warrant a full federal investigation.
“Time and time again, Governor DeSantis has proven he is not up to the task of leading our state out of this pandemic as he continues to play politics with the health and well-being of vulnerable Floridians,” Crist said in a statement. “So far, over 30,000 Floridians have died and at least 1.8 million more have gotten sick, with minority communities and seniors hit the hardest. Instead of prioritizing people most at risk, the Governor has chosen – during the worst pandemic in a century — to help out his friends and donors. That is why I’m calling on the Department of Justice to investigate.”
The Congressman also referenced the VIP list developed for the Manatee County site, which included County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who was involved in negotiations over the site. Democrats in Manatee County are now calling for Baugh’s resignation.
“In several cases, these sites seem to be targeted to wealthy communities with whom Governor DeSantis has clear political connections, allowing some to skip to the front of the line in counties with existing waitlists,” Crist writes in the letter. “Lakewood Ranch’s parent company is owned by one of the largest Republican donors in the country, including contributing over $900,000 to the Governor. The ZIP codes in question have the highest income levels and lowest COVID infection rates in the county.”
The Congressman is not the only critic of DeSantis’ selective vaccine distribution.
Florida House Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby blasted DeSantis last week after he made the announcement of the Lakewood Ranch vaccine site.
Rayner’s House District 70 covers largely minority communities within Manatee and not the two Lakewood Ranch ZIP codes served at a site announced by DeSantis.
Within Manatee County, 28.1% of the residents, or more than 113,000 people, are older than 65, according to the most recent Census estimates.
Meanwhile, 86% of county residents are White, 9.3% are Black and 16.9% are Hispanic. But of the 43,405 individuals vaccinated so far in the county, 31,067 are White, or 71.6%. Just 793 are Black, or 1.8%, and 1,077, or 2.5%, are Hispanic.