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Former health department employee, Rebekah Jones, granted official whistleblower status

On Friday, the Office of the Inspector General informed Jones that “the information disclosed does meet the criteria for whistleblower status as described by ... Florida statutes.”
Rebekah Jones was responsible for building the COVID-19 data dashboard for the Florida Department of Health, was fired last year after raising concerns about “misleading data” being presented to the public.
Rebekah Jones was responsible for building the COVID-19 data dashboard for the Florida Department of Health, was fired last year after raising concerns about “misleading data” being presented to the public. [ Miami Herald ]
Published May 29
Updated May 30

Rebekah Jones is officially a whistleblower under Florida law, the Office of the Inspector General told her attorneys Friday.

Jones, who was responsible for building the COVID-19 data dashboard for the Florida Department of Health, was fired last year after raising concerns about “misleading data” being presented to the public, according to the complaint, which was reviewed by the Miami Herald.

In the complaint, filed July 17, 2020, Jones alleged she was fired for “opposition and resistance to instructions to falsify data in a government website.” She described being asked to bend data analysis to fit predetermined policy and delete data from public view after questions from the press — actions she claimed “represent an immediate injury to the public health, safety, and welfare, including the possibility of death to members of the public.”

On Friday, the Office of the Inspector General informed Jones that “the information disclosed does meet the criteria for whistleblower status as described by ... Florida statutes,” according to the email obtained by the Herald.

A letter from Inspector General Michael J. Bennett said Jones’ complaint demonstrates “reasonable cause to suspect that an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor has violated any federal, state or local law, rule or regulation.”

Whistleblower status offers Jones certain protections under Florida law, including the potential for reinstatement or compensation should the ongoing investigation find the department retaliated against Jones for the concerns she raised last year.

“It’s pretty huge,” Jones told the Herald in response to the news. “This isn’t vindication, but this is a start. It’s a big push forward.”

Weesam Khoury, communications director for the Department of Health, said the finding does “not indicate wrongdoing or that an agency has engaged in the alleged acts.”

Added Taryn Fenske, the DeSantis administration’s communications director: “Whistleblower status doesn’t substantiate any claims. It simply provides confidentiality, and means someone made a complaint.”

Jones first went on national television last May after Gov. Ron DeSantis slammed her to the press while standing next to former Vice President Mike Pence. DeSantis ignored her concerns and instead questioned her credentials.

In a pending case, she was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement this past January, charged with a third-degree felony for allegedly breaking into a state messaging system and encouraging people to “speak up.”

Since then she has been at the center of heated controversy that escalated after Christina Pushaw, later to become the governor’s press secretary, wrote a piece for Human Events titled “THE ‘FLORIDA COVID-19 WHISTLEBLOWER’ SAGA IS A BIG LIE” that took aim at Jones’ claims, her Twitter persona and her past, including a history of minor arrests, none of which led to convictions.

Despite the accusations, Jones has maintained that she was asked to “manipulate” and “delete” COVID-related data by her superiors at the department. Emails from within the agency reviewed by the Miami Herald and others show Jones was asked to remove data from public view after receiving questions about it from the Herald.

The investigation into Jones’ allegations is ongoing.

A previous version of this story did not name or precisely describe the author of the article in Human Events. Christina Pushaw, a political consultant, communications manager and contributor to conservative media, is now the governor’s press secretary.

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