MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida sheriff’s office is investigating whether a commissioner broke state law by putting herself on a VIP vaccine list and quietly picking her district to solely receive vaccines.
Officials with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint from a Sarasota paralegal on Monday, launching the investigation into whether or not Commissioner Vanessa Baugh violated state law after she admitted to creating a “VIP” list for a coronavirus pop-up clinic.
The complaint accuses Baugh of ignoring the county’s Vaccine Standby Pool process between Feb. 9 and Feb. 15 and says she “selected two zip codes within her own district, including friends and herself, that would receive the additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up site.”
The complaint adds that on Feb. 15, Baugh sent an email to the Director of Public Safety of Manatee County Jacob Saur with the subject “names for list” in which she added individuals to the list of those who would receive the extra doses of vaccine at the pop-up site.
Some residents call the Lakewood Ranch vaccine event organized by Chairwoman Baugh outrageous, some call it offensive, and Paralegal Michael Barfield calls it illegal.
“Cited three different statutes, and official misconduct is one of them, misuse of an official position is a second and the third was altering a list because the list was altered,” Barfield said.
Barfield claims when Baugh organized the event she created a VIP list of vaccine recipients.
“The list of recipients that were waiting to get the vaccine was altered by Commissioner Baugh to include two jurisdictions, two zip codes and her friends,” Barfield told NewsNation affiliate WFLA.
Lakewood Ranch is located in southeastern Manatee County and northeastern Sarasota County and is consistently ranked among the richest neighborhoods in Florida. Census data show the two zip codes have median household incomes 75-85% higher than the county average. State data shows the two zip codes don’t have more seniors or more virus cases than several of their neighboring zip codes.
“This unique opportunity was made possible by Governor DeSantis calling [Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President] Rex Jensen [and] wanting to do a vaccination site near Lakewood Ranch,” Baugh said the day the pop-up site was announced. “The governor has been trying to find large areas of neighborhoods to target.”
Commissioner Baugh, who represents Lakewood Ranch, took responsibility for the zip code restrictions at the state-run site. She made a public apology during a commission workshop last week.
Congressman Charlie Crist is also speaking out following the Lakewood Ranch vaccine clinic. Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th District in the U.S. House, is requesting a federal investigation into Gov. Ron DeSantis’s handling of the vaccine distribution in Florida.
“He brings 3,000 vaccines to Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County, an affluent community and a lovely community quite frankly and says, you know, we are going to give 3,000 vaccines to the people in this community and nobody else in Manatee County can get them; nobody in the inner city, nobody in the brown or Black communities,” Crist said. “This is mostly a white, affluent, Republican community, I should add.”
Congressman Crist told WFLA he feels Gov. DeSantis made the wrong call.
“He is picking winners and losers and when we’re talking about giving out the vaccine, they are not just winners or losers in a corporate sense…these are living people or dying people,” he said. “That is the kind of decision the governor is making right now and in my opinion, he is doing it in a way that must be investigated by the Department of Justice because it is not equitable, it is not fair. It is unequal the way he is doing it and it is just unconscionable to me.”
While there have been protests and numerous emails sent to county commissioners as outlined by Barfield’s complaint — some still support commissioner Baugh.
“To her credit, very quickly within days publicly in front of all the other commissioners it says hey, it was a mistake it won’t be repeated,” Manatee County resident Kevin Wright said.