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Gov. DeSantis Blamed Outsiders for COVID-19 Spread, But His Top Donor Reportedly Got to Fly in Employees

Despite spending much of a 33-minute press briefing last week condemning New Yorkers for defying the state’s shelter-in-place and coming to Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) didn’t call out his biggest donor, billionaire hedge fund owner Kenneth Griffin, for flying in employees.

According to the Miami Herald, which has an increasingly rocky working relationship with DeSantis, Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel hedge fund and 38th most wealthy person in America, has flown in several traders and other employees from New York and Chicago to keep business going at the Four Seasons, despite a city-wide order prohibiting new hotel reservations throughout Palm Beach county:

Griffin’s Citadel Securities has set up a makeshift trading floor in the swank hotel, secluded behind a wall of palm trees and other dense foliage.

[…]

The market-making firm said setting up the trading operation took roughly a week. The firm said the move is for business continuity, but that hasn’t stopped employees and their guests from enjoying the hotel’s private beach, poolside cabanas, and gourmet dining.

A person who works with Griffin and Citadel Securities disputed that there was any exception made. The hotel arrangements were made prior to DeSantis’s various orders, the person said. The person also said that Griffin isn’t staying at the hotel, but 24 Citadel Securities employees are.

Palm Beach County officials ordered the closure of all businesses not considered essential this week. That order included a ban on new hotel reservations unless they are “providing rooms to essential workers, domestic violence victims, displaced people or people using hotels as transitional housing.”

In a statement to the Herald, Citadel said it had booked rooms for the company in advance of the no-reserving order in order to maintain “business continuity.

“Up to this point, we have aggressively positioned to maintain business continuity and stay in the market through a number of steps across our global office footprint. In recent weeks, we have split teams into additional space in New York and Greenwich and now have established an additional office in Florida,” the firm said. “We believe this business continuity decision positions us to continue to provide liquidity to our clients and the market given the trajectory of the virus.”

An internal memo first obtained by Bloomberg News revealed that Citadel’s newly constructed Four Seasons Palm Beach trading floor opened Monday.

Griffin donated $5.75 million to Friends of Ron DeSantis, a super PAC that supported the governor in his 2018 defeat of Andrew Gillum. The donation accounted for more than 10-percent of DeSantis’s total fundraising.

In a 2012 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Griffin said he believed the wealthiest Americans should have more influence over politics.

“I think (the ultra-wealthy) actually have an insufficient influence,” Griffin said in an interview at Citadel’s downtown office. “Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet.”

Editor’s note: this story initially said Griffin himself was staying at the hotel, but that detail has been changed to note that it’s actually two dozen of his employees. The story also removed a reference to an “exception” being made because it was confusing. The exception we were referring to was that certain outsiders were blamed for bringing the virus to Florida, but others were not. The lede now reflects that.

[image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.