Fla. fire captain accused in vaccine theft turns himself in

Polk County Fire Rescue Capt. Tony Damiano is accused of ordering Paramedic Joshua Colon, who was also arrested, to steal the vaccine doses meant for first responders

Sara-Megan Walsh
The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A 17-year Polk County Fire Rescue captain turned himself in to face charges in connection with the alleged theft of COVID-19 vaccines, but not before asking to retire.

Tony Damiano, 55, turned himself into Polk County Jail in Bartow about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday. He faces one felony count of official misconduct and one misdemeanor count of petty larceny.

Polk County Fire Rescue Capt. Tony Damiano, 55, turned himself in to authorities Wednesday after being accused of ordering a paramedic to steal COVID-19 vaccines.
Polk County Fire Rescue Capt. Tony Damiano, 55, turned himself in to authorities Wednesday after being accused of ordering a paramedic to steal COVID-19 vaccines. (Photo/Polk County Sheriff's Office)

Damiano was wanted in connection with the theft of three doses of Moderna vaccine, which Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said was carried out by 31-year-old paramedic Joshua Colon at Damiano's order.

Colon was arrested on Monday. At the time, Damiano was driving home from California after being deployed with the National Disaster Medical System to aid in the pandemic.

"I only have one question for them: What were you thinking?" Judd said.

Judd said Damiano asked Colon to obtain the vaccine for Damiano's elderly mother, who is sick. The Sheriff's Office said the paramedic first refused but told investigators that Damiano threatened to inform those higher in chain of command that Colon was selling the vaccines outside of work.

Colon received three vials on Jan. 6 each containing 10 doses to administer to first responders at Station 38 in Davenport. He filled three syringes with doses and left them in a refrigerator at the fire station, according to Judd. Colon told investigators he was ordered to take a lunch break and when he returned the vaccines were gone.

The Sheriff's Office said that after speaking with Colon, they had the paramedic make a monitored phone call to Damiano to locate the vaccines. The captain admitted to taking the doses, according to investigators' affidavit, and said the syringes were in the trunk of his SUV parked at a friend's St. Cloud house.

According to the affidavit, Damiano told Colon to report that the vaccines had rolled off the desk at the station. The captain then asked Colon to retrieve the doses, according to police reports.

Judd said his agency worked with the Osceola County Sheriff's Office to obtain a search warrant for the vehicle. The Sheriff's Office said homeowner Kimberly Smith, a nurse, shared text messages between her and Damiano asking her to move the syringes from his trunk to the front seat.

One of the text messages Smith shared from Damiano said, "Maybe I should wipe the syringes in the bag down with alcohol prep to take my fingerprints off hehe," according to the affidavit.

Two of the three missing doses were retrieved, according to Judd, but are not usable as they were not refrigerated.

Damiano submitted a letter of resignation asking to retire from Polk County Fire Rescue prior to turning himself Wednesday, according to PCFR spokesman Chris Jonckheer, who said he is technically eligible.


(c)2021 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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