Florida Police Raid Home of Former COVID-19 Data Analyst
- Florida police brandishing guns conducted a raid Monday morning on the home of Rebekah Jones, a former data analyst for the Florida Department of Health who created and ran the state’s COVID-19 dashboard before being fired in May.
- Jones, who claimed she was fired from her role after refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data to support the state’s broad reopening plans, accused Gov. DeSantis of being behind the raid and sending the “Gestapo” to silence her. DeSantis denied the claim.
- Law enforcement said they conducted the raid while serving a warrant as part of an investigation into whether Jones illegally hacked into a state email system and sent a message to employees.
- Jones denied having any involvement in that incident and claimed that the hardware seized in the raid had “evidence of illegal activities by the state” as well as legal proof that state officials had lied to the public.
The Saga Rebekah Jones
Florida state police officers on Monday raided the home of Rebekah Jones, a former Department of Health data analyst who built the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and accused officials of firing her because she refused to manipulate data.
Jones first came out with her story shortly after she was terminated from her role in May. At the time, Jones, who had been widely praised for both creating and managing the tracker, told local reporters that she had been ordered to censor data, but refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
According to emails obtained by The Tampa Bay Times, Jones had “objected to the removal of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced.”
“Department staff gave the order shortly after reporters requested the same data from the agency on May 5,” the emails showed.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) denied the accusations, called Jones’ removal a “nonissue,” and claimed she was fired because she was insubordinate. He also downplayed her role in developing the COVID-19 dashboard while casting doubt on her credentials and painting her as a disruptive employee and a criminal.
DeSantis specifically pointed to unrelated charges of cyberstalking and cyber sexual harassment from July 2019. The latter charge has been dropped, though DeSantis falsely claimed it was still open. He argued that these other factors were also part of the reason Jones was fired.
But Jones, who disputed DeSantis’ account, continued to fight back. In June, she launched her own dashboard of Flordia coronavirus data that she bills as a more transparent and independent alternative to the state’s tracker.
In July, she filed a whistleblower complaint against the Health Department asking for her job to be reinstated with pay. She has also reportedly been very vocal on social media, posting criticisms of DeSantis and his state agencies.
Jones’ Home Raided
The news of the raid on Jones’ home was first made public in a now-viral video of the incident she posted on Twitter.
In the video, Jones opens the doors and is escorted out of her home by an officer while several others enter brandishing firing arms. They ask who else is in her house and she responds that her two children and husband are inside before the officers point their weapons at the staircase and call for them to come downstairs, saying they have a search warrant.
“Do not point that gun at my children! He just pointed a gun at my children!” Jones can be heard yelling over the officer’s calls.
In the tweet where she shared the video, Jones also claimed that the officers, who were “serving a warrant on my computer after [Department of Health] filed a complaint” pointed the gun in her face took all her hardware, including “evidence of corruption at the state level.”
“They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo,” she wrote.
“This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly. This is what happens to people who speak truth to power. I tell them my husband and my two children are upstairs… and THEN one of them draws his gun. On my children. This is Desantis’ Florida.”
Shortly after Jones shared the video, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) confirmed in a statement that they had seized Jones’ computer equipment while executing a search warrant.
The spokesperson also claimed that when the agents arrived, they first knocked on Jones’ door and called her “in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family.”
“Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on agents,” the spokesperson said. “After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter.”
In an interview with The Times, Jones said it was not true that she refused to open the door. She claimed the delay was due to the fact that she was taking her time getting dressed because she believed she was going to be arrested.
In a separate statement, the FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen told reporters that the agents had “entered the home in accordance with normal protocols and seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed.”
Swearingen also disputed Jones’ claim that guns were pointed at her and her children, claiming that “at no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home.”
As for why the FDLE was serving that warrant, according to an affidavit by an investigator with the department, it was in connection to an investigation the agency launched after the Health Department reported that an unauthorized person had illegally accessed a state government emergency management system to send a group text message to government officials encouraging them to take action.
“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” the message said. “You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
The investigator claimed in the affidavit that he had traced the message to an IP address associated with Jones’ house.
However, as IT experts explained to the Tallahassee Democrat: “An IP address identifies the location that an Internet connection was made but doesn’t prove that Jones sent the text message.”
Jones Denies Hacking Accusations
Jones denied the allegations while speaking to reporters later on Monday. In an interview with The Times, she said that she was not a hacker and would not have known how to enter the system and send the message.
“DeSantis publicly said I’m not a data scientist, I’m not a computer scientist and I wouldn’t even know what to do if I saw a database, and now he’s accusing me of hacking one,” she said. “It’s a real 180 there. I’m not a hacker. I don’t hack. I don’t know s— about computers. I know how to do statistics.”
In another interview with CNN, Jones claimed that the language in the unauthorized text message did not match the way she talked and contained obvious errors that she would not make.
“The number of deaths that the person used wasn’t even right,” she noted. “They were actually under by about 430 deaths. I would never round down 430 deaths.”
Jones also told CNN that she has not had access to any Health Department systems for six months and that all information she had was accessed legally from reports or sent to her from other people still working for the government.
She additionally claimed that some of the drives taken by the police contained legal “proof that (state officials) were lying in January about things like internal reports and notices from the CDC,” as well as “evidence of illegal activities by the state.”
“This is what happens when you challenge powerful and corrupt people,” she said, again accusing DeSantis of orchestrating the raid. “If he thinks this is going to scare me into silence, he’s wrong.”
DeSantis, for his part, has denied any involvement in the raid.
“The governor’s office had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation,” In a spokesperson for his office said Monday, adding that the FDLE launched the investigation before anyone knew about Jones’ alleged involvement.
See what others are saying: (The Tallahassee Democrat) (The Tampa Bay Times) (CNN)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.