Florida COVID information critic Rebekah Jones reaches settlement on felony cost – Tampa Bay Occasions
FORT LAUDERDALE — A fired Florida well being division information supervisor charged with illegally accessing state computer systems after she publicly accused officers of desirous to make COVID-19 statistics look much less dire has reached an settlement with prosecutors that ought to consequence within the case being dropped.
Rebekah Jones, who helped design the state’s coronavirus web site, signed an settlement with prosecutors admitting guilt to a cost of illegally accessing the state’s laptop system and requiring her to pay $20,000 to cowl the investigation’s prices, carry out 150 hours of group service and see a psychological well being counselor month-to-month. If she completes these necessities, the cost can be dropped inside two years. The settlement was filed late final week at Tallahassee’s circuit courtroom.
Jones, who misplaced a bid for Congress final month, was charged in January 2021 with one rely of offenses in opposition to customers of computer systems, laptop methods, laptop networks and digital gadgets. Investigators say that in late 2020, months after she was fired, Jones illegally accessed a state emergency-alert messaging system often known as ReadyOp.
The Florida Division of Legislation Enforcement stated Jones downloaded and saved confidential information and sent a message to 1,750 state staff that urged them to “converse up earlier than one other 17,000 individuals are lifeless” — the variety of Floridians who had died of COVID-19 by that time.
“ that is fallacious. You don’t should be part of this. Be a hero,” the message stated.
A month earlier than she was charged, armed Florida Division of Legislation Enforcement brokers raided her residence and seized her computer systems.
Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman stated Monday that Jones’ cost was “comparatively minor” and that the settlement was one “everybody can stay with.”
“We attempt to resolve most circumstances outdoors of trial,” she stated. If convicted at trial, Jones would have confronted as much as 5 years in jail, although any vital time behind bars would have been unlikely.
Jones, who has denied sending the message, posted a prolonged assertion criticizing her plea settlement, saying “no justice can be served by persevering with the charade.” She accused Gov. Ron DeSantis of personally ordering the raid, and stated brokers pointed weapons at her two younger kids.
“In a judicial system adversarial to empathy, fact and human decency, I win a complete dismissal — for a price,” she wrote. “I proceed to remind myself to be grateful. Definitely this isn’t the end result DeSantis and his thugs wished. And whereas an settlement to dismiss the fees isn’t the outright dismissal I wished, it’s a dismissal none-the-less.”
The governor’s press workplace didn’t instantly reply to a telephone name and electronic mail searching for remark.
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Jones, 33, acquired nationwide consideration in early 2020 when she sowed doubt concerning the info being reported by the state when Florida was an epicenter of the pandemic.
She publicly steered that she pushed again when well being division managers wished her to control info to color a rosier image as DeSantis pushed to reopen Florida companies sooner than most different states and preserve restrictions gentle in small, rural counties.
DeSantis, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, raised his nationwide profile by criticizing COVID lockdowns, most masks sporting and hiring a well being division chief who’s skeptical of coronavirus vaccines.
Well being division officers denied Jones’ allegations and he or she was fired for violating laws barring staff from making public statements with out permission. About six months later, the pc message was despatched, beginning the investigation that led to her arrest.
Jones was the Democratic challenger to Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz final month. Within the closely GOP district, Gaetz gained by a 2-to-1 margin.
By TERRY SPENCER Related Press