Florida fire captain accused of using paramedic to steal COVID-19 vaccines

U.S. & World News

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida fire captain resigned and turned himself into authorities Wednesday in connection with coronavirus vaccine thefts.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said PCFR Capt. Anthony Damiano stole syringes of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine for his elderly mother and directed a Polk County Fire Rescue paramedic to falsify official documents.

“He betrayed those who worked for him by taking advantage of a paramedic. At the end of the day, he’s washed up legally. He’s washed up with his colleagues,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

Paramedic Josh Colon was arrested Tuesday for his alleged role in falsifying vaccine screening and consent forms to help Damiano steal the vaccine. Colon was Polk County’s 2020 Paramedic of the Year.

While talking to detectives, Colon had a monitored phone call with Damiano during which the captain reportedly admitted to taking the vaccines and told Colon to report them as if they fell off the desk at the station. Damiano said the vaccines never got used and told Colon he could retrieve them from his car at the home of his friend Kimberly Smith since he was out of town.

After contacting Smith, detectives learned that on Jan. 6, Damiano obtained two syringes of the vaccine for his mom, who is elderly and sick. Smith told detectives she thought it was strange that he left it in his vehicle for so long since the vaccines are no good if left out of the freezer for a while.

While waiting for search warrant to be approved, Damiano reportedly sent Smith a text message requesting she call him on a landline. The detective monitored the call between the two in which Damiano allegedly told her he was getting dragged into a “mess” with another firefighter who was doing “shady” stuff.

When confronted, however, Damiano admitted he obtained syringes of Moderna for his mom.

Detectives contacted Damiano’s mother, Mary Jane Damiano, on Jan. 26. She reportedly told investigators she had spoken to her son, who said he was working on getting her vaccinated, but didn’t say how he’d do it. She said she never received the vaccine, though.

Colon was assigned to administer the vaccines to first responders in Davenport.

Judd said Colon placed the vaccines in a refrigerator. “And then at the direction of the captain, he took a break. So he left to take a break and when he came back, voila, the seal’s broken and the vaccinations are gone,” said Judd.

Colon was also arrested this week and resigned from his job. He’s facing 16 charges including forgery and falsifying medical records.

Battalion Chief Yevgeniy Gorokhov noticed discrepancies on required Florida Health COVID-19 vaccine screening and consent forms, according to Damiano’s arrest affidavit.

“When it came in, it was messed up. There were misspellings. There was no date of births, there was total confusion on these forms,” said Judd.

He reported his concerns, and the sheriff’s office was called.

“We feel confident that any future discrepancy will be caught,” said Polk Fire Rescue Chief Robert Weech. “We’re actually pretty confident and pretty happy that what was in place was something that identified these issues and these mistakes. So we’re not planning any changes but we’ll definitely take a harder look at these things as we move forward.”

WFLA’s request to interview Polk Fire Rescue Medical Director Dr. Paul Banerjee about the vaccine reporting process was denied on Wednesday.

Two vaccines were found in Damiano’s friend’s vehicle in St. Cloud and had to be thrown away. One vaccine is still missing.

The Florida Department of Health in Polk County provided the vaccines to Polk County Fire Rescue.

“When we distribute vaccines out to partners, we allocate a certain number of vaccines and then they report back to us how much vaccine is given,” said Nicole Riley, a Health Department spokesperson.

Damiano is charged with official misconduct and petit theft.

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