LAKELAND, Fla. – The 2020 “Paramedic of the Year” in Polk County, Florida, has been arrested and charged with stealing COVID-19 vaccines meant for first responders.
Joshua Colon, 31, was arrested Monday by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office after confessing to intentionally stealing three doses of Moderna vaccine then forging paperwork in attempt to cover his actions, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“We have a responsibility to uphold the community’s trust. We found in one of these opportunities we didn’t do that,” Robert Weech, chief of Polk County Fire Rescue said. “We are deeply disappointed.”
According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Colon said he stole the vaccines earlier this month at the request of his supervisor, Capt. Tony Damiano, who sought the vaccine for his elderly mother.
The Sheriff’s Office said the paramedic at first refused, but he told investigators that Damiano threatened to inform those higher in chain of command that Colon was selling the vaccines outside of work.
“Joshua tried to cover for the captain, Joshua set up the circumstances for vaccines to be stolen,” Judd said. “Had Joshua simply gone to his boss right then, he would have been a hero.”
Colon received three vials on Jan. 6 each containing 10 doses to administer to first responders in Davenport, Florida. Once administered, Colon had to provide names and the number of doses administered – first reporting 28 vaccinations and two wasted, according to his affidavit.
Weech said upon reviewing Colon’s submitted paperwork, there were discrepancies that couldn’t be explained. Three Florida Health COVID-19 Vaccine Screening and Consent forms turned in by Colon were not completed on the day of the incident. During the investigation, two of the firefighters who were contacted stated they had not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Colon later confessed to adding the names of two firefighters and one fake name, according to Judd. The paramedic told deputies he completed the forms to show each vaccine was accounted for, creating fictitious email addresses and phone numbers.
Colon confessed he had put three vaccine doses into syringes and placed them in the fire station’s refrigerator with a label on it, Judd said. Colon told investigators he was ordered to go on his lunch break by his supervisor, and when he came back the vaccine doses were gone.
During the investigation, officers asked Colon to call Damiano to discuss the issues with the vaccines in an effort to safely locate and retrieve them. The deputies learned the stolen doses were in a vehicle parked in front of a St. Cloud home, Judd said.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office worked with Osceola County to obtain a warrant and search the property and vehicle. The missing vaccines were found on the front seat of the vehicle. They are no longer viable for use because Moderna’s vaccine needs to be kept refrigerated.
One dose of the COVID-19 vaccine remains unaccounted for, Judd said.
Colon resigned from Polk County Fire Rescue on Friday, prior to his arrest. He faces 12 felony and two misdemeanor charges, including four counts of forgery, four counts falsifying medical records, two counts creating fictional personal IDs and official misconduct.
Damiano, a 17-year veteran, is under investigation. He was deployed to California to aid in the pandemic response as a member of the National Disaster Medical System. Judd said he expected to arrest Damiano upon his return home, possibly later Tuesday.
“He might as well turn himself in,” the sheriff said. “You can run but you can’t hide. The deal is over.”
Follow reporter Sara-Megan Walsh on Twitter @SaraWalshFl
Sick kids in class, teachers punished for speaking out:Over 780 COVID-19 complaints reveal schools ignoring safety
Luck, foresight and science:How an unheralded team developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time