Law & the Courts

Former FEMA Official Arrested on Bribery, Fraud Charges Relating to Puerto Rico Power Restoration

Workers of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority repair part of the electrical grid in Utuado, Puerto Rico, May 17, 2018. (Alvin Baez/Reuters)

A former Federal Emergency Management Agency official has been arrested on charges that she took bribes from the president of a company that received $1.8 billion from the federal government to repair Puerto Rico’s power grid after it was decimated by 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. Also arrested was Jovanda Patterson, who worked under Tribble at FEMA and was later hired by Cobra.

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

A federal investigation found that Tribble and Ellison had cultivated a “close personal relationship” and that Ellison had multiplied Tribble’s slew of perks in exchange for her influence in securing Cobra’s government contracts. The gifts included a helicopter tour over Puerto Rico, a New York apartment, plane tickets, and hotel stays.

In one instance, Tribble threatened in February of last year to withhold FEMA aid from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority if it did not hire Cobra to repair damage from an explosion, despite officials’ at the public utility saying they could get the work done for a lower price.

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