By Jannis Falkenstern
PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–The Florida Inspector General has found “insufficient evidence” to support the claims of a former employee that she was asked to falsify COVID-19 data.
In a 27 page report released May 26, the Florida Department of Health Office of Inspector General determined the accusations made by Rebekah Jones, a former Florida Department of Health employee and long-time critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis, to be “unsubstantiated” and “unfounded.”
The report found no evidence of wrongful termination of Jones. It also cleared DOH officials accused by Jones of removing a data section from the state’s website to ensure private health information was not released to the public.
Jones, a Democrat, is now challenging Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz as a U.S. Congressional candidate in Florida’s Panhandle.
In May 2021, Jones. a data curator for DOH was terminated for insubordination after being reprimanded “several times” about violating policy for communicating with the media, according to state records. Shortly after she filed her complaint with the IG’s office in May, Jones was given whistleblower protection status, having met “minimum criteria” under Florida law, while the investigation was ongoing.
Jones claimed that “at least 1,200 cases” were deleted in July under duress from DOH officials. She later admitted that those cases were in fact “out-of-state visitors that were recorded separately on the DOH dashboard.
Jones’ attorney, Rick Johnson, told reporters that his client “is still a whistleblower” and that she will move forward with her claim of wrongful termination in court. He said the investigative report governs the actions of state workers and does not affect her rights or ability to sue for wrongful termination. Johnson maintains that his client was terminated for “refusing to manipulate COVID data and that a rebuttal has been filed.
Johnson said the Florida Commission on Human Relations, a state agency that reviews wrongful termination claims must review Jones’ wrongful termination claim before it can go to court. He has accused the agency of slow-walking the case until after the election in November.
A Twitter war began when Christina Pushaw, who is now the press secretary for Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote an article for a Human Events publication in Feb. 2021 that sought to discredit Jones’ claims of data manipulation. Jones filed a restraining order against Pushaw and then said Pushaw violated the order, which was later reported by the courts in Maryland to be untrue and the case was later dismissed.
Jones shot to stardom because she lent a fresh face to a “Narrative.” Pushaw wrote in her Feb. 2021 article that, according to The Narrative, Florida wasn’t supposed to be winning the fight against the pandemic. “It’s full of high-risk seniors, teeming with tourists, and run by a Republican who is an unapologetic ally of former President Donald Trump.”
“To liberal intelligentsia, the idea that DeSantis could handle COVID-19 better than mask-mandating lockdown enthusiasts like Andrew Cuomo or Gavin Newsom was unthinkable,” she wrote.
As the Twitter war raged on between Jones and naysayers, Jones was able to garner more than 378,000 Twitter followers, but was suspended from the social media platform in June 2021 for violating its terms of service—but not before profiting from it.
Pushaw later wrote on Twitter: “She was suspended because she broke a clear rule against buying followers (platform manipulation) and—all evidence points to this—hijacking the accounts of unsuspecting users to make them follow her.”
Jones had taken her newfound Twitter fame and turned it into a fundraising engine in her bid to unseat Gaetz in November and had moved to the Panhandle from Tallahassee in order to qualify for candidacy, according to papers filed with the Florida Secretary of State office.
The IG’s report described Jones as an employee who did not have a clear understanding of public health policy or the importance of epidemiological data, did not have direct clearance to access “crucial information” and it was “skeptical” of the claims made against health officials.
Jones now faces a felony charge for “allegedly accessing and downloading confidential health department data” after she was terminated from DOH. Her home was raided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) who reportedly removed computers and software.
Unrelated to the DOH charge, she is facing three misdemeanor stalking charges from 2017. Those charges involve an affair she had with a former student who accused her of stalking him, which led to her termination from Florida State University, where she was a PhD student and an instructor. That case is still pending.
A spokesperson for DOH, Jeremy Redfern told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement, “We aren’t giving any statements, as we feel that the report speaks for itself.”
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