BARTOW, Fla. — A Florida man who had been recently named “Paramedic of the Year” helped a supervisor steal COVID-19 vaccines meant for first responders, sheriff’s officials said.
Joshua Colon, 31, forged the vaccine screening and consent forms to help cover up the theft of three vials containing 10 doses each of the Moderna vaccine, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news conference Tuesday.
Colon was arrested on Monday, days after his resignation from Polk County Fire Rescue, Chief Robert Weech said.
According to authorities, Colon told investigators that a captain with the fire department had asked him to take the vaccine.
Judd said the captain will also be arrested when he returns home from a work assignment in California.
Polk County Fire Rescue had been delivering the coronavirus vaccines to first responders, and Colon was administering the shots, Judd said.
On Jan. 6, Colon received three vials, and was directed to administer the shots to first responders at a fire station in Davenport, Judd said.
At the end of his shift, Colon noted that he administered 28 vaccines, adding that two of them were no good, an arrest report said. Later Colon retracted that, saying he gave 27 vaccines and three were waste.
Colon is charged with felony counts of uttering a false instrument, criminal use of personal identification, creating a fictitious person and falsifying an official record as a public servant.
The investigation began when a battalion chief noticed discrepancies in the paperwork Colon filed after a vaccine assignment.
The Jan. 6 paperwork included three falsified forms, investigators said. One had the name of a former Haines City firefighter, and two were fake names, one of which resembled a former Haines City firefighter.
During the investigation, the two firefighters were contacted and told investigators that they had not yet received the vaccine.
Judd said deputies interviewed Colon at his lawyer’s office. Judd said Colon admitted to falsifying the paperwork, and said the captain had asked him to procure doses for his mother.
Colon told investigators he initially refused, but the captain threatened to report him for stealing and selling vaccines. Colon said that frightened him.
According to the report, the captain ordered Colon to go on a lunch break the next day. When he returned he noticed the three doses were missing, but he did not report the issue.
While at the lawyer’s office, Colon called the captain and they discussed the vaccine, according to investigators who monitored the call. The captain told Colon that the doses were in a car parked outside a friend’s house in Saint Cloud, officials said.
According to Judd, deputies found two vials there. The third has not been recovered.
A group of local civic clubs in Lakeland had named Colon “Paramedic of the Year” for his actions after a serious highway crash, according to a recent Polk County Fire Rescue social media post.
“The bottom line is, Joshua tried to cover for the captain,” Judd said of Colon’s arrest. “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. Instead he started falsifying paperwork, making up people who didn’t exist to cover it up.”
The Associated Press