Federal authorities have arrested two former officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the former president of a major disaster relief contractor on charges of fraud and conspiracy, in connection with the restoration of electricity in Puerto Rico after #HurricaneMaria.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico said that then-president of Cobra Acquisitions LLC, Donald Keith Ellison, gave FEMA’s deputy regional director, Ahsha Nateef Tribble, airline flights, hotel accommodations, personal security services and the use of a credit card. To pay the favor back, Tribble “used any opportunity she had to benefit Cobra,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez, adding that Tribble accelerated payments to the company and pressured local power authority officials to award their contracts, NBC Washington reports.
Ellison also reportedly provided employment to a friend of Tribble’s, Jovanda R. Patterson, who had been FEMA deputy chief of staff in Puerto Rico before resigning in July 2018 to work for Cobra Energy LLC, according to the indictment. Tribble was the main leader behind restoring electricity back to the island following Maria back in 2017. Cobra signed a contract worth about $1.8 billion. Tribble was arrested Monday in Oklahoma, according to authorities.
However, Ellison’s attorney, Bill Leone, claims the government is attempting to incriminate Ellison and Tribble because of their friendship. “He has done nothing wrong,” Leone said of Ellison. “There’s just absolutely nothing to prohibit that.”
The government is now seeking the forfeiture from Ellison of accounts with more than $4 million in addition to a 40-foot catamaran. Thirty years of prison time is what the trio can expect if they are convicted. U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez of New York said in a statement that corruption was another major reason for the negligence surrounding the response to the damage.