Gov. DeSantis Diverted Federal COVID Relief Funds to Benefit Political Donor’s Development Project: WaPo

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), who is running for U.S. President in 2024, directed a substantial sum of federal coronavirus relief funds to a highway interchange project linked to a prominent political donor, Mori Hosseini, according to a report from The Washington Post.

Records indicate that last year, the Florida Department of Transportation utilized $92 million from the American Rescue Plan 2021 for the I-95 interchange near Daytona Beach.

This controversial move significantly favored Hosseini, a major landowner with plans to develop the area around the proposed interchange.

Hosseini, a well-known real estate developer, plans to transform the adjacent tracts of land, previously earmarked for conservation, into a 1,300-unit residential area and a 650,000 square feet shopping district.

This funding from the DeSantis administration expedited the project by over a decade, state documents confirm.

During his 2018 campaign, DeSantis vowed to “drain the swamp in Tallahassee.”

Despite his initial criticism of the American Rescue Plan as “Washington at its worst,” once the money was allocated to Florida, he employed it for non-pandemic related projects, such as the Pioneer Trail interchange.

Jessica Ottaviano, communications director for the state transportation department, argued that the Pioneer Trail project was prioritized as it was “production ready” and had local support.

She stated, “[T]his enhanced interchange project will help keep up with Florida’s growing population.”

According to campaign finance records, companies under Hosseini’s control contributed a minimum of $361,000 to political groups favoring DeSantis’s reelection campaign.

The governor also made use of Hosseini’s private jet numerous times, according to The Washington Post.

Despite the controversy surrounding the project, the local planning authority approved the state’s plans, discounting objections from the Republican chairman of the Volusia County Council, Jeff Brower.

He emphasized that “there are areas that just shouldn’t be developed” and argued the project would compromise essential wetlands and watersheds.

Furthermore, former governor Charlie Crist, DeSantis’s Democratic contender in the last election, opposed the interchange.

He wrote, “This is a project Florida does not need and is one the community does not want — the state should not keep pushing for it.”

Despite this, Maryam Ghyabi-White, Hosseini’s sister and a regional transportation consultant, maintained that the interchange was chosen for funding not because of any political influence, but rather because it was “the only interchange in Volusia that design was ready.”

However, local opposition to the project remains, with groups challenging the permit granted by the local water management district in court.

While construction is set to begin in the coming year, many hope to halt the project.

“It is the zombie interchange that just won’t die, despite being fought back several times before,” said Derek LaMontagne, founder of Save Spruce Creek, a local opposition group.

“Spruce Creek and its nature preserve are idyllic treasures that need to be protected.”