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FEMA, Cobra Officials Arrested in Puerto Rico Bribery Scandal

FEMA, Cobra Officials Arrested in Puerto Rico Bribery Scandal

A former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator was arrested Tuesday for taking bribes from a company that won $1.8 billion worth of federal contracts to repair the electrical grid in Puerto Rico after it was largely destroyed in 2017 by Hurricane Maria.

The administrator, Ahsha Tribble, was formerly the administrator for the Puerto Rico region, and former Cobra Acquisitions President Donald Keith Ellison also was arrested. The pair was accused 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,” according to the Department of Justice.

Tribble and Ellison had a “close personal relationship” from October of 2017 to April of 2019, and Ellison gave her a number of gifts ranging from the use of a personal helicopter, hotel accommodations and personal security services.

In exchange for the gifts, Tribble performed “official acts” like influencing, advising and exerting pressure on Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and FEMA officials to reward restoration projects to Cobra and speed up payments to the company.

“All government officials are entrusted with performing their duties honestly and ethically,” U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez of the District of Puerto Rico said. “The charged offenses are reprehensible, more so in light of PREPA’s and Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.”

FEMA said in a statement that it takes these types of allegations against its employees “extremely seriously,” adding that they are “fully cooperating with federal investigators.”

“FEMA’s mission is to help the American people before, during and after disasters and our mission can only be accomplished by maintaining the public trust and confidence of those we serve,” FEMA said. “As such, the Agency takes allegations of employee misconduct extremely seriously and holds all employees to the highest ethical standards — requiring them to protect government resources and place public service over private gain in everything they do.”