LAKELAND, Fla. – The 2020 “Paramedic of the Year” in Polk County, Florida, was arrested and charged with stealing COVID-19 vaccines intended for first responders.
Joshua Colon, 31, was arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Monday after confessing to deliberately stealing three doses of Moderna vaccine and then manipulating documents to cover up his actions, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“We have a responsibility to uphold the community’s trust,” said Robert Weech, Chief of Polk County Fire Rescue. “We found in one of these opportunities we didn’t do that. We are deeply disappointed.”
According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Colon said he stole the vaccine this month at the behest of his boss, Capt. Tony Damiano, who was searching for the vaccine for his elderly mother.
The Sheriff’s Office said the paramedic had originally declined but told police that Damiano threatened to warn anyone in the chain of command that Colon was selling the vaccinations out 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.”
On January 6, Colon obtained three vials each containing 10 doses to be given to the first responders in Davenport, Florida. When delivered, Colon had to include the names and amount of doses administered – the first to record 28 vaccines and the second to waste, according to his affidavit.
Weech said that, after analyzing the paperwork submitted by Colon, there were inconsistencies that could not be clarified. Three Florida Health COVID-19 Vaccine Screening and Consent forms filed by Colon were not completed on the day of the incident. During the inquiry, two of the firefighters contacted said they had not received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Colon later admitted that he had added the names of two firefighters and a false identity, according to Judd. The paramedic informed the deputies that he had completed the forms to display each vaccination, producing fake email addresses and phone numbers.
Colon admitted that he had placed three doses of the vaccine in syringes and placed them in a fire department refrigerator with a sticker on it, Judd said. Colon told police that he had been asked to take a lunch break by his boss, and when he returned the vaccine doses had disappeared.
During the investigation, officers asked Colon to contact Damiano to discuss vaccine problems in an attempt to find and recover them safely. The deputies learned that the missing doses were in a car parked in front of the St. Cloud house, Judd said.
The Office of the Sheriff of Polk County collaborated with Osceola County to secure a warrant to search the property and the car. Missing vaccinations were found in the front seat of the car. They are no longer viable for use because the Moderna vaccine needs to be kept refrigerated.
One dose of the COVID-19 vaccine remains unrecognized, Judd said.
Colon resigned from the Polk County Fire Rescue on Friday before his arrest. He faces 12 criminal charges and two minor charges, including four counts of forgery, four counts of falsification of medical documents, two counts of fictional personal Ides and official misconduct.
Damiano, a 17-year-old veteran, is under arrest. He was sent to California as a part of the National Emergency Medical System to help with the response to a pandemic. Judd said he wanted Damiano to be arrested on his return home.