Former top FEMA official busted for taking bribes after Hurricane Maria

Elias Hubbard
September 11, 2019

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Federal authorities have arrested former officials of the Federal Emergency Management Authority and the former president of a major disaster relief contractor, accusing them of bribery and fraud as the USA territory struggled to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Federal authorities said they arrested former FEMA deputy administrator Ahsha Tribble and the former president of Cobra Acquisitions, Donald K. Ellison, on Tuesday, accusing them of conspiring to defraud the federal government.

From October 2017 to April 2019, Ellison provided "things of value" to Tribble to influence his decisions to award Cobra with restoration work, according to the Justice Department.

During his tenure as the President of Cobra Energy, Ellison "developed a close personal relationship" with Tribble, gifting her with a helicopter tour around the island, housing in NY and Puerto Rico, at least one first-class airline ticket from San Juan to NY, security detail, use of a credit cards and more, according to the 15-count indictment.

Ellison also arranged a job for Tribble's friend, the other co-defendant and a former FEMA deputy chief of staff assigned to San Juan, Jovanda R. Patterson, at a company affiliated with Cobra. Cobra Acquisitions and Cobra Energy are subsidiaries of Oklahoma City-based Mammoth Energy Services Inc.

"These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane María".

"They took advantage of one of the most vulnerable moments in the history of Puerto Rico to enrich themselves", said the US attorney for Puerto Rico, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez.

Victor Vazquez, employee of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, during fix work on power lines affected by Hurricane Maria on April 18, 2018, in San Juan. "The charged offenses are reprehensible, more so in light of PREPA's and Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis", Rodríguez-Vélez added.

FEMA said in a statement Tuesday that they "cannot comment on personnel matters; however, the Agency is fully cooperating with federal investigators". "As such, the Agency takes allegations of employee misconduct extremely seriously and holds all employees to the highest ethical standards - requiring them to protect government resources and place public service over private gain in everything they do". Tribble was separately charged with Travel Act violations, while Ellison was separately charged with making false statements to federal agents.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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