Florida Man Named 'Paramedic of the Year' and Fire Captain Arrested in COVID-19 Vaccine Theft, Police Say

(l-r) Paramedic Joshua Colon, 31 and Fire Captain, Anthony Damiano, 55
Polk County Sheriff

Joshua Colon allegedly admitted to stealing three vials containing 10 doses each of the Moderna vaccine and attempted to cover up the theft by forging the vaccine screening and consent forms for the missing vaccines, cops said.

A Florida man named 2020's “Paramedic of the Year” has been arrested for allegedly stealing COVID-19 vaccines intended for first responders after he said he was ordered to do the dirty work by his supervisor, Polk County Sheriff’s officials said at a Tuesday news conference. 

Joshua Colon, 31, allegedly admitted to stealing three vials containing 10 doses each of the Moderna vaccine and attempted to cover up the theft by forging the vaccine screening and consent forms for the missing vaccines that were supposed to be given to firefighters, according to his affidavit, the sheriff's office said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during the conference Colon told police he stole the vaccines at the request of his supervisor, Fire Captain Tony Damiano, who wanted the vaccine for his elderly mother, USA Today reported. 

Colon, a Polk County Fire Rescue (PCFR) paramedic, who was also a training officer, resigned on Jan. 22 and was arrested on Jan. 25. He was charged with 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, according to a release by the Polk County Sheriff’s office.

Officials said Colon told investigators during the investigation that he initially refused the fire captain's request, but he claimed the captain threatened to report him for stealing and selling vaccines. Colon said that frightened him, The Associated Press reported.

"Joshua tried to cover for the captain; Joshua set up the circumstances for vaccines to be stolen," Judd said, according to USA Today. "Had Joshua simply gone to his boss right then, he would have been a hero.”

On Jan. 28, Anthony Damiano, 55, Polk County Fire Rescue captain and 17-year-veteran, was arrested Wednesday after he turned himself into the Polk County Jail, where he was booked on a felony charge of official misconduct and a misdemeanor theft charge, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, The Orlando Sentinel reported.  He has been charged with petit theft and causing another person to falsify official records as a public servant. He has been released on bond from the Polk County Jail, according to inmate records, CNN reported.

    According to the affidavit, PCFR has been directed to administer COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna to first responders. On Jan. 6, Colon received three vials and was directed to administer the shots to first responders at a fire station in Davenport, Florida, then provide their names and number of the doses administered. First, Colon reported that 28 vaccinations were administered, and added that two of them were not good, according to Colon’s affidavit. Colon later retracted that, and said he gave 27 vaccines and three were wasted, AP reported. 

    A battalion fire chief noticed discrepancies when reviewing the paperwork Colon had filed after the vaccine assignment that indicated a red flag, officials said. Three of the Florida Health COVID-19 Vaccine Screening and Consent forms submitted by Colon were not completed on the day of the incident, according to police. 

    During the investigation, the two firefighters listed were contacted, who told investigators that they had not yet received the vaccine. The third name was not a person who existed, according to the affidavit.

    On Jan. 25, Colon met with deputies and later confessed that he falsified forms, according to authorities. According to the affidavit, made available by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Colon added the names of two firefighters and one fictitious name. The paramedic told deputies he completed the forms to show each vaccine was accounted for, creating fake email addresses and phone numbers, authorities said. 

    Colon told deputies that on the day of the incident, his supervisor joked with him in reference to getting some vaccines for the supervisor’s mother, according to Colon’s affidavit. Colon said he was told by the supervisor to report those vaccines as waste. According to Colon, he refused to provide those vaccines to the supervisor, at which time the supervisor said he would tell the higher-ups in the chain of command that Colon was selling vaccines outside of work, according to his affidavit.

    According to Colon’s affidavit, the supervisor ordered Colon to go on a lunch break later that day. The vaccines were left in a refrigerator with a label tab. When Colon returned to the station, he said he noticed the label was tampered with and three vaccines were missing, according to his affidavit. Colon said he did not question his supervisor in reference to the missing vaccines, however, he immediately became suspicious stated Colon, according to his affidavit. Colon did not report the incident to anyone within the PCFR, said his affidavit  

    At his lawyer’s office, Colon called Damiano, who had told Colon he was deployed to California with the National Disaster Medical System and said Colon could pick up the doses from his car, which was parked at a friend’s house in St. Cloud, according to Colon’s affidavit.

     After obtaining a search warrant, officials say they found the missing Moderna vaccines on the front seat of the vehicle. Moderna’s vaccines must be kept refrigerated, or else they are no longer viable for use. One dose of the COVID-19 vaccine remains unaccounted for, Judd said, the AP reported.

    David Carmichael, an attorney representing Colon, said his client was put in a “very difficult situation” by Damiano, who is accused of threatening Colon with retribution if he didn’t help him obtain the doses, The Orlando Sentinel reported.

    Colon was released after posting bond. The investigation is ongoing, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s office.