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A "Paramedic Of The Year" Allegedly Helped Cover Up A COVID Vaccine Theft

The Florida paramedic allegedly forged documents after three vaccine doses were taken from a refrigerator by a superior.

Posted on January 26, 2021, at 4:29 p.m. ET

Ted Shaffrey / AP

A Florida paramedic helped a supervisor steal coronavirus vaccines, sheriff's officials said Tuesday, forging documents and trying to cover for his superior after the captain allegedly took three doses that were meant for first responders.

Joshua Colon, who was named "Paramedic of the Year" in 2020 by the Polk County Fire Department, was arrested Monday after the 31-year-old admitted to forging documents after three vaccine doses were taken from a refrigerator, officials said.

Colon, who had been tasked with giving the vaccine to firefighters in a Davenport station, told investigators Capt. Anthony Damiano had "joked" about taking some of the vaccines for his mother. Later that day, the captain allegedly told Colon to go to lunch, and Colon returned to find a plastic bag that been stored with three doses empty with a broken seal.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Colon didn't confront the captain over the missing doses or contact other supervisors, but instead tried to cover for the captain.

"Had Joshua simply gone to his boss right then and there, he'd been a hero," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a press conference Tuesday. "Instead, he started falsifying paper, making up people who didn't exist to cover it up."

Courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office

Judd said Damiano is expected to be arrested and charged for the stolen vaccines, but the captain had been deployed to California to assist with the surge of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Investigators are expecting to contact the captain sometime Tuesday evening.

The sheriff's investigators said they became aware of the theft after fire officials found discrepancies in the Florida Health COVID-19 Vaccine Screening and Consent Forms that Colon had submitted.

Colon had logged 23 recipients at the Davenport station but had given only 21 forms.

After trying to get the forms, a battalion chief in the department noticed misspellings and missing dates of birth. Frustrated, he decided to call one of the supposed recipients to complete the form himself.

After contacting the firefighter, Sheriff Judd said, the firefighter said he had not received a vaccine and was no longer a firefighter with the department.

Colon met with investigators with his attorney.

"He said, 'Hey, I want to totally cooperate. I have totally embarrassed the fire service and I falsified the paperwork,'" Judd said.

Colon allegedly told investigators his supervisor had at one point threatened to accuse him of selling vaccine doses on the street.

As part of the investigation, Colon later called the captain to tell him he had gotten in trouble for the missing vaccines and asked the captain to return them.

During the phone call, Damiano allegedly told Colon he was on assignment in California, but that the vaccines were in his car at a friend's home in St. Cloud.

Damiano texted the friend to take the vaccines out of the trunk of the car and put them in the front seat for Colon, officials said. According to Judd, Damiano also "joked" with the friend, texting her, "Maybe you want to wipe the fingerprints off the bag."

"We recovered two doses," Judd said. "We still don't know where the one syringe and one dose is."

In addition to charges connected to the theft of the vaccines, Judd said, Damiano is also expected to be charged with abuse of authority.

"He might as well turn himself in," Judd said. "The deal is over. You're going to jail."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.