A Polk County Fire Rescue paramedic has been arrested in the theft of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses, the sheriff's office said.
Joshua Colon, 31, was just named Paramedic of the Year in 2020, but on Monday he was arrested for stealing the vaccine, then forging the screening and consent forms. Colon told detectives he was directed to do so, by his supervisor.
“It’s absolutely disappointing. Not only were we responsible for holding public trust but we had a special duty and that was to deliver the vaccine to first responders that are out there, that are helping the public,” said Fire Rescue Chief Robert Weech.
On January 6, Colon received three vials containing 10 vaccines each and was directed to administer those to first responders.
Colon told deputies that his supervisor Capt. Anthony Damiano joked with him about getting some vaccines for Damiano's mother. Colon said Damiano told him to report those vaccines as waste. According to the arrest report, Colon initially refused, but Damiano threatened to tell Colon’s supervisors that he was stealing and selling vaccines.
Colon said that he was ordered to go on his lunch break later that day by Damiano. The vaccines were left in a refrigerator with a label tab. When Colon returned to the station, he said he noticed the label tab was tampered with and three vaccines were missing. He did not report this incident to anyone within Polk County Fire Rescue.
Colon told deputies that when he was later asked to document the total number of doses administered, he created a fake name, email addresses and phone numbers, to show that each vaccine was accounted for.
“The bottom line is, Joshua tried to cover for the captain. Joshua set up the circumstance for the vaccines to have been stolen. Had Joshua simply gone to his boss right then, he’d have been the hero,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.
Meanwhile, many Polk County residents have struggled to get an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine. After weeks of trying to get vaccinated, Donna Durham finally got one last week.
“I’m disappointed in people that we put our trust into, that are supposed to be out here helping us and they’re taking advantage of the situation. There’s just no word for it," she said.
Colon is charged with:
- 4 counts forgery (F3) $1,000 bond each
- 4 counts uttering forged instrument (F3) $1,000 bond each
- 4 counts falsifying medical records (M2) $250 bond each
- 1 count official misconduct (F3) $1,000 bond each
- 1 count criminal use of personal ID (F3) $1,000 bond each
- 2 counts creating fictional personal ID (F3) $1,000 bond each
He was released after posting bond and has resigned from Polk County Fire Rescue. Damiano is currently under criminal investigation. He has been with Polk Fire Rescue for 17 years and a captain for 14.
"We will talk to him either late tonight or in the morning, he might as well go and turn himself in. You can run but you can't hide," Judd said during the press conference.
The following afternoon, according to the sheriff's office, Damiano turned himself in at the Polk County Jail booking facility in Bartow.
Damiano is charged with:
- 1 count of official misconduct (F3)
- 1 count of petit theft (M2)
Editor's Note: The article has been updated to reflect that it was doses of the vaccine stole, not vials as originally stated by the Polk County Sheriff's Office.