Former top FEMA official busted for taking bribes after Hurricane Maria

A worker from the Cobra Energy Company installs power lines in the Barrio Martorel area of Yabucoa Puerto Rico

A worker from the Cobra Energy Company installs power lines in the Barrio Martorel area of Yabucoa Puerto Rico

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Puerto Rico filed fraud and conspiracy charges Tuesday against a former top executive at a subsidiary of Oklahoma City-based Mammoth Energy Services that worked on restoring the island's hurricane-destroyed power grid, company officials said Tuesday.

In a 15-count indictment, US prosecutors allege that Ahsha Tribble, who oversaw the Federal Emergency Management Agency's efforts to restore electrical power after the hurricane, accepted helicopter rides, hotel rooms and other bribes from Donald Ellison, who was then president of Cobra Acquisitions LLC, which was contracted to do the work.

For example, after an explosion at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) Monacillos transmission center in February 2018 that left several municipalities without power, Tribble "insisted and pressured" PREPA executives to ensure that Cobra would be contracted to make the necessary repairs, despite PREPA executives explicitly stating that PREPA could fix the damage at a much lower cost.

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The company had received two contracts worth $1.85 billion from the power authority with federal funds from FEMA.

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Prosecutors, the story states, assert that Ellison provided Tribble with hotel accommodations, the use of a helicopter, airfare, personal security and a credit card to win more favorable treatment from the agency.

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"These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane María", Rodríguez said in a statement. "Instead, they chose 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", U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez said in a statement. Patterson became FEMA's deputy chief of staff in Puerto Rico before she resigned in July 2018 to work for Cobra Energy LLC, according to the indictment. Patterson also lied about her government pay to secure a higher salary at Cobra, they say.

"All government officials are entrusted with performing their duties honestly and ethically". 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.

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