The Phoenix Flyer

Whistleblower computer expert facing criminal charges has the COVID disease she was tracking

By: - January 18, 2021 5:46 pm

Rebekah Jones. Credit: YouTube.

TALLAHASSEE – Rebekah Jones, the 31-year old computer expert who designed a state system for keeping up with COVID-19 data in Florida, now has the disease she was tracking.

The positive test for the virus was discovered Sunday night when Jones was booked into the Leon County Jail in the state capital, on charges of making unauthorized access to a state computer system.

Stephen Dobson, her attorney, said she spent two days driving back to Tallahassee from her new home outside of Washington, D.C.

She is charged with unlawful access to the state Health Department computer system. State agents say the computer access was tracked to a computer at her home address in Tallahassee.

Dobson said he asked Mark Perez, the agent in charge at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Tallahassee Operations Center to let her delay her surrender, but Perez insisted she had to be in jail by Sunday night.

The FDLE claimed that Dobson did not mention that Jones was sick.

But, “She was coughing constantly and seriously ill,’’ Dobson said.  She was released from jail after appearing before Judge John C. Cooper and posting $2,500 bail.

She is accused of illegally accessing a state health department computer system on Nov. 10 by posting a message that warned health department employees to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead.’’

She is also accused of obtaining a computerized list of people listed on the department’s emergency network. The charges are a 3rd degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Dobson said Circuit Judge Cooper rejected FDLE’s request to ban her from using computers or the internet.

FDLE agents seized her computer equipment and cell phone while serving a search warrant on her Tallahassee home in December.  She has since filed a lawsuit against FDLE accusing the agents of participating in a sham designed to punish her for speaking out against Gov. Ron DeSantis.

She contends DeSantis wanted her to falsify statistics on a “dashboard’’ she created to track COVID-19 cases in Florida. She was fired from her job after filing a whistleblower complaint against officials at the Health Department.

DeSantis has defended the state actions against her.

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen has denied having any conversations with the governor about the investigation.

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Lucy Morgan
Lucy Morgan

Pulitzer Prize-winner Lucy Morgan was chief of the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times capital bureau in Tallahassee for 20 years, retiring in 2006 and serving as senior correspondent until 2013. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame and the Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame. The Florida Senate named its press gallery after Morgan, in honor of her two decades covering the Legislature.