FEMA Officials Arrested on Charges Stemming from Hurricane Maria Response
Three individuals, including officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have been indicted and arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery of public officials; acts affecting a personal financial interest; false statements; disaster fraud; honest services wire fraud, Travel Act violations, and wire fraud. The arrests came as a result of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation.
According to the Department of Justice release, the indictments handed down by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico last week include 15 counts against:
- Ahsha Nateef Tribble - FEMA, Region II, Deputy Regional Administrator, assigned to work in Puerto Rico as part of FEMA’s response to Hurricane María. From October 2017 to September 2018, Tribble was also the Sector Lead for Power and Infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the Recovery Office Deputy Director – Infrastructure Directorate/Disaster Recovery Manager in the Office of the FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer.
- Donald Keith Ellison - President of Cobra Acquisitions, LLC until June 2019.
- Jovanda R. Patterson, a.k.a. “Jo/Jojo,” - FEMA Deputy Chief of Staff, assigned to San Juan, PR from October 2017 to March 2018. Patterson resigned from her position with FEMA in July 2018 to work for Cobra Energy LLC.
According to the indictment, Tribble, Ellison, and Patterson went to Puerto Rico following the hurricane as part of a recovery and restoration mission on Puerto Rico’s power grid. Tribble was the primary leader on restoring electric power to the island.
Cobra Energy served as the main contractor for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) on recovery work following the hurricane. PREPA executed two contracts with COBRA with a total contract value of approximately $1.8 billion. Work performed under both contracts was paid through PREPA with federal funds from FEMA.
Between October 2017 and April 2019, the indictment alleges that Tribble and Patterson received gifts such as hotel stays, access to credit cards and a personal security service, and an apartment in New York in exchange for helping Ellison and COBRA land hurricane recovery contracts in Puerto Rico and accelerating payments to the company.
“These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane María. 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,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “All government officials are entrusted with performing their duties honestly and ethically. The charged offenses are reprehensible, more so in light of PREPA’s and Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.”
If found guilty, the defendants face sentenced of up to five years for conspiracy, travel act violations, conflict of interest, and false statements. They also face up to 30 years for honest services wire fraud and disaster fraud.
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