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

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A disgraced fire captain resigned and turned himself into authorities in connection to coronavirus vaccine thefts at Polk County Fire Rescue Wednesday.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said PCFR Captain Anthony Damiano stole syringes of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine for his elderly mother and caused a PCFR paramedic to falsify official documents to pull it off.

“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.

While talking to detectives, Colon held 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 advised the vaccines never got used and told Colon he could retrieve them from his car at his friend Kimberly Smith’s house, as 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 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 did in fact obtain 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 did receive the vaccine, though.

Colon, a former Paramedic of the Year, was assigned to administer the vaccines to first responders in Davenport.

Colon placed the vaccines in a refrigerator, Sheriff Judd said.

“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 Sheriff Judd.

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

The discrepancies were noticed by Battalion Chief Yevgeniy Gorokhov as the 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 Sheriff Judd.

His concerns traveled up the chain of command at Polk County Fire Rescue and eventually the sheriff’s office was called.

The fire chief believes the system worked.

“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.”

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

Once Colon told deputies what happened, two vaccines were found in Damiano’s friend’s vehicle in St. Cloud.

They had to be thrown away. One vaccine is still missing.

The Florida Dept. 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, spokesperson, Fla. Dept. of Health in Polk County.

Damiano turned himself in at the Polk County Jail Wednesday afternoon. He is charged with official misconduct and petit theft.

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