Written by Katherine Lewin on September 12, 2019
In a surprise to no one, two FEMA officials have been charged with fraud and bribery for trying to make themselves rich off of the devastation of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico by helping a company that received $1.8 billion in government contracts.
According to reporting by The Washington Post, one of the FEMA officials, Ahsha Nateef Tribble, who was the “primary leader” in charge of restoring power to the devastated island, pressured and tried to force her colleagues and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority officials to give government work to the company, Cobra Acquisitions LLC.
Tribble received a helicopter ride, hotel accommodations, first-class airfare, personal security services and use of a credit card from the then-president of Cobra Acquisitions LLC.
“These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane Maria,” Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, the U.S. attorney for Puerto Rico, said in a statement announcing the indictment on Tuesday. “Instead, they decided to take advantage of the precarious conditions of our electric power grid and engaged in a bribery and honest services wire fraud scheme in order to enrich themselves illegally.”
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Jovanda R. Patterson, a FEMA deputy chief of staff who left her position in July 2018 to work for a cushy job at Cobra Energy and Donald Keith Ellison, who was president of Cobra Acquisitions until June 2019, have also been indicted. Patterson allegedly received her job because of Tribble’s positive influence.
All have denied the allegations and Ellison’s lawyer even called it “normal business.”
Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria. While hundreds were dying, U.S. officials and others in power in Puerto Rico were taking advantage of the territory’s vulnerable situation. At the same time, President Donald Trump called aid to Puerto Rico “incredibly successful.”