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DOE watchdog finds that 16 submitted fake vax cards


Sixteen current and former city educators deliberately submitted fake Covid-19 vaccination cards, according to an investigation by the independent watchdog for the city's Department of Education. 

In a May 15 letter to Schools Chancellor David C. Banks, the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District,  Anastasia Coleman, said SCI had substantiated allegations that the employees had “knowingly submitted falsified and misleading documents” to the DOE claiming they had complied with vaccination mandates.

The probe determined that the 16 DOE employees claimed that they had been vaccinated by Julie DeVuono, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare in Amityville, Long Island. 

DeVuono later pleaded guilty to forging vaccine cards and charging people between $220 and $350 for them. She also pleaded guilty to money laundering in the second degree. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office found that DeVuono falsely reported to the New York State Immunization Information System that the purported patients were inoculated.

More than 80 educators working in city public schools were placed on unpaid leave in April 2022, but the United Federation of Teachers argued that the city violated its collective bargaining agreement by disciplining its members without first holding due-process hearings. An arbitrator agreed with the union, and the DOE informed the workers that they would be returned to the payroll in September 2022.

A state Supreme Court judge ordered that the workers be allowed back in the classroom, and 30 educators received return-to-service letters in January 2023.

Few cooperated with probe

In her letter to the schools chancellor, Coleman wrote that SCI had determined that more than 100 DOE employees submitted vax cards indicating that they were vaccinated at Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare. Among them, 76 submitted “proof” to the DOE showing that they received the vaccine at the clinic, SCI found. 

But because just three of the current and former employees cooperated with the investigation, “SCI did not find supporting sufficient evidence to confirm that the remaining employees violated DOE and DOH/MI-I COVID-19 vaccination mandates,” Coleman wrote.

The educators who did agree to speak with SCI “maintained that they received vaccinations at Wild Child,” she continued.

The letter stated that 13 current and former educators had financial records showing that they, or close relatives, made payments to Wild Child, but refused to speak to investigators. Many of the payment dates corresponded with the dates of their alleged vaccinations. Five of the employees “had no [discernible] financial information connecting them to Wild Child,” SCI found.

One teacher who works at a middle school in Queens claimed that two $220 Venmo payments to Wild Child were for detox vitamins and supplements that she took after each shot. 

“In view of DeVuono's declaration that $220 payments were in exchange for false records, SCI investigators found [the employee’s] claim about detox implausible,” Coleman's letter stated.

Another teacher, who had previously worked at an elementary school in Queens, claimed that he got the shot at Wild Child and that his children were treated there, according to the report. Although he admitted paying a fee to the clinic, he said that he was unsure of how much he paid, or what the payment was for. 

“The SCI Investigator found his lack of certainty regarding the purpose of such large expenditures (totaling nearly $1,500) lacking credibility,” the letter said.

Three of the employees resigned, including two in September 2022, after DeVuono was arrested. The other retired in March 2022.

'Violation of public trust'

The Special Commissioner said that there was sufficient evidence indicating that at least 16 current and former educators violated DOE directives “by refusing to be vaccinated, and they deceived the DOE by submitting fake documents to the contrary.” The fact that many of the employees had documented payments to Wild Child for substantial amounts of money, despite the fact that the shot was free at the time the vaccine mandate was enacted, also corroborated SCI’s findings, Coleman said.

“These employees very likely endangered public health and, specifically, the safety and wellness of DOE students, employees, and their families. We recommend appropriate disciplinary action concerning the active employees, which may include dismissal from employment,” the commissioner wrote.

In a footnote after noting the potential appropriate discipline the workers should face, Coleman highlighted a probe by the Office of the MTA Inspector General, which in April found that 12 employees at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority submitted fraudulent vaccine cards. One worker was terminated, while the other 11 employees were given unpaid suspensions that ranged from 60 to 120 days.

Late last month, NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban ruled that a police officer who pleaded guilty to submitting fake vaccination cards could stay on the job. Caban docked the nine-year cop, Kimberly Lucas, 85 vacation days. 

An NYPD administrative trial judge had recommended that Lucas, who had lied to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau about her vaccine status, be fired. But Caban cited what he called Lucas’ “exemplary service” in deviating from that guidance. 

In response to an inquiry regarding whether the DOE educators would face discipline, a department spokesperson said the matter was “currently pending and under review.”

“Honesty is expected of all staff members, particularly when it relates to the safety and wellbeing of our school communities,” the spokesperson, Jenna Lyle, said. 

The SCI also suggested that the DOE add problem codes to the agency’s personnel database for the three employees who have since left their jobs, in the event they try to work at the DOE again.

Coleman wrote that SCI would not refer the case to prosecutors, but noted that “these actions by DOE employees, as reported and as likely to have taken place, amount to criminal acts.… It constitutes a serious violation of the public trust.”

More than 900 DOE employees were terminated in February 2022 because they refused to get vaccinated. Many city workers who were fired because of the vaccine mandate are pushing state legislation that would require the city to reinstate the workers to their former positions without making them sign a waiver barring them from suing.


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