Federal authorities announced Tuesday that two former officials from the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA), as well as the former president of the main relief contracting agency in Puerto Rico, have been arrested and indicted on charges of taking bribes during restoration efforts after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.
Former president of Cobra Acquisitions LLC, Donald Ellison, whose company, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), was contracted to help restore electricity on the island, allegedly exchanged favors and bribes with FEMA’s deputy regional director Ahsha Tribble in an attempt to bolster each other’s benefits from recovery efforts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico.
U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez alleges in the indictment that Ellison provided Tribble with personal helicopter use, hotel accommodations, airfare, personal security services and a credit card. In return, Tribble used her authority to pressure PREPA and FEMA officials to secure further contracts for recovery efforts for COBRA and accelerate payments to Ellison’s company.
Cobra was awarded two contracts worth about $1.8 billion combined, according to court documents filed on Sept. 3.
The three are facing 15 criminal counts including conspiracy by public officials to commit bribery, acts affecting a personal financial interest, providing false statements, disaster fraud, wire fraud and Travel Act violations. If convicted, they could each face up to 5 years in prison for conspiracy, travel act violations, conflict of interest and false statements and up to 30 years for honest services wire fraud and disaster fraud.