FEMA officials, contractor accused of hurricane relief fraud

FEMA officials, contractor accused of hurricane relief fraud

FEMA officials, contractor accused of hurricane relief fraud

Federal authorities announced Tuesday they had arrested 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, Cobra, for allegedly taking bribes during restoration efforts after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.

Ahsha Nateef Tribble, a FEMA deputy regional administrator who'd been sent to the island to lead power recovery efforts, is accused of taking helicopter rides and hotel rooms from the president of the contracting firm Cobra Acquisitions LLC, while "influencing, advising, and exerting pressure" on FEMA and the local power authority to award restoration contracts, worth almost $2 billion, to the company, according to an indictment announced Tuesday. The grand jury indictment was returned on Tuesday. They include charges against Tribble and Ellison of conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services wire fraud and disaster fraud.

Authorities also accuse Ellison of having secured a job for Patterson, and assert Tribble pressured the electrical authority to award business to Cobra and to accelerate 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", Rodríguez said in a statement. Tribble was separately charged with Travel Act violations, while Ellison was separately charged with making false statements to federal agents.

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 when it touched down as a category 4 storm, wiping out electricity and leading to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

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

Filings that were made in June as part of a separate but related civil case filled by Ellison in California revealed that a criminal probe into Cobra's activities was ongoing. Prosecutors claimed that Ellison provided Tribble with personal helicopter use and use of a credit card and that he secured employment within Cobra for Patterson.

During his tenure as the President of Cobra Energy, Ellison "developed a close personal relationship" with Tribble, gifting her with a helicopter tour around the island, housing in NY and Puerto Rico, at least one first-class airline ticket from San Juan to NY, security detail, use of a credit cards and more, according to the 15-count indictment.

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

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