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A state probe finds Rebekah Jones' claims of data manipulation is unsubstantiated and unfounded

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
As Rebekah Jones battled with the state in 2020, police executed a search warrant at her home as part of an investigation into a November 2020 unauthorized login into the Department of Health’s messaging system.

An inspector general says there's no evidence of wrongdoing after investigating allegations that the Department of Health fudged COVID case numbers to support Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to reopen the state.

A state investigator’s report says there’s nothing to indicate the Florida Department of Health told former employee Rebekah Jones to falsify COVID-19 data and she wasn’t fired out of retaliation.

The 268-page report released this month looked into claims made by Jones, who alleged the department fudged case numbers to support Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to reopen the state after a shutdown in April 2020.

She also claimed she was let go from her job managing the state’s COVID-19 dashboard after she refused to manipulate the data. The state said she was fired for insubordination after being reprimanded several times.

Jones gained national media attention for her claims, even starting a rival dashboard system. She also became a high-profile critic of DeSantis amid his efforts to restart the state’s economy and reopen schools.

The investigation, done by Department of Health Chief Inspector General Michael Bennett, found there wasn’t enough evidence to support or disprove many of Jones’ accusations. Other claims were unfounded, meaning that the issue raised did not occur.

As Jones battled with the state in 2020, police executed a search warrant at her home as part of an investigation into a November 2020 unauthorized login into the department’s computer system. Authorities said she illegally accessed the system to send a message to 1,750 people and downloaded confidential data and saved it to her devices.

An unidentified person gained access to that system and sent a message stating, “it’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”

Jones later turned herself in and posted bond. She faces felony charges in the case.

Jones, a Democrat, is running for the U.S. House seat now held by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach,

In a statement to theTallahassee Democrat, Jones said of the probe's findings, "I don't think it was ever realistic for them to come out and be like, 'Yeah, everything she said is true, we're sorry my bad.' It's not something I am ever going to forget or truly ever get over...In some ways, it's a relief to have this thing over after two years."

Jones says she plans to sue the state for wrongful termination in federal court. The department has maintained that Jones was fired for modifying data without input from agency epidemiologists or her supervisors.

Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ spokeswoman, was an early skeptic of Jones’ claims, publishing an article titled “The ‘Florida COVID-19 Whistleblower ‘saga is a big lie,” on the site Human Events, calling Jones’ allegations into question. In a response on Twitter to another user, Pushaw said, “This is why the long-awaited conclusion of the Rebekah Jones story (she made it all up) actually matters so much. It was all partisan politics to certain DC & NYC media personalities, but in Florida, the conspiracy theory did actual harm (to apolitical people).”

You can read the report here. It was first reported by NBC News’ Marc Caputo.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.