A Florida man who received the 2020 Paramedic of the Year award is facing a raft of charges in 2021 after he allegedly covered up the theft of COVID-19 vaccines in Polk County.
Joshua Colon, 31, is accused of falsifying several forms so his supervisor could steal three doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine from a fire station, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Colon had been in charge of administering the vaccine to local firefighters, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference.
Colon’s supervisor allegedly ordered him to go on a lunch break, then took three doses of the vaccine from a refrigerator at the fire station on Jan. 6, police said in an affidavit. Colon later claimed the missing doses had been discarded, before submitting paperwork that said they’d been given to three people — including one who did not exist.
Authorities say Colon’s supervisor had previously asked him for the vaccine to help his mother.
“We have one question for them,” Judd said at the news conference. “What were you thinking? Did you only have three brain cells?”
Colon resigned from his post on Friday and was arrested Monday. He now faces 16 charges in connection with the incident, including forgery, falsifying medical records, official misconduct and creating a fictional personal identification, authorities say.
The supervisor is also expected to face criminal charges, though he was not in custody as of Wednesday morning.
“The bottom line is Joshua tried to cover for the captain,” Judd said. “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 arrest marks a stunning reversal in fortune for Colon, who received the fire department’s 2020 Paramedic of the Year award on Jan. 13. Local civic organizations gave him the award for his work over the last two years, including his response to a serious multi-vehicle crash.
Authorities became suspicious of Colon when they noticed three doses of vaccine had gone missing on his watch. Colon initially claimed they had been discarded, then produced falsified screening and consent forms for the absent doses when pressed, Judd said. The forms included the names of two firefighters who had not received the vaccine and a third name that “was not a person who existed.”
Colon’s lawyer, David Carmichael, claims his client tried to tell the fire chief about the incident, but the chief was not around. That’s when he decided to cover it up, Carmichael told the Tampa Bay Times.
“Mr. Colon deeply regrets his weakness in failing to alert the Chain of Command to the theft of the vaccine, accepts responsibility for his error in covering up the theft, and in an effort to protect the reputation of his agency, has resigned his position,” Carmichael told the paper in a statement.
Colon told investigators that he was following the orders of his supervisor, Anthony Damiano.
Colon was released after posting bond.
“Josh Colon was a trusted employee,” fire rescue Chief Robert Weech said at the news conference. “I consider this to be out of character for him. He made some severe mistakes.”
Weech added that Damiano has served as a reserve sheriff’s deputy, so he “clearly and unequivocally understands the law.”
He also noted that Colon does not appear to have “benefited at all” from the incident.