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FEMA official arrested for fraud over Hurricane Maria recovery effort in Puerto Rico

Key Points
  • A former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was arrested Tuesday for taking bribes from the president of a company that landed $1.8 billion in federal contracts to repair Puerto Rico's electrical grid after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017.
  • Federal authorities arrested Ahsha Tribble, FEMA's former deputy administrator for the region that includes Puerto Rico. Donald Keith Ellison, the former president of Cobra Acquisitions was also arrested.
  • FEMA said the agency takes allegations of employee misconduct "extremely seriously" and added that they are "fully cooperating with federal investigators" in a statement.
Dr. Ahsha Tribble
Source: FEMA

A former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was arrested Tuesday for taking bribes from the president of a company that landed $1.8 billion in federal contracts to repair Puerto Rico's electrical grid after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017.

Federal authorities arrested Ahsha Tribble, FEMA's former deputy administrator for the region that includes Puerto Rico. Donald Keith Ellison, the former president of Cobra Acquisitions was also arrested.

They were 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 a statement from the Department of Justice.

Ms. Tribble and Mr. Ellison had a "close personal relationship" from October 2017 to April 2019, and Mr. Ellison gave Ms. Tribble gifts that ranged from personal helicopter use, hotel accommodations and personal security services, according to the DOJ statement.

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In exchange, Ms. Tribble performed "official acts" including influencing, advising, and exerting pressure on Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and FEMA officials, in order to award restoration work to Cobra and accelerate payments to the company.

"All government officials are entrusted with performing their duties honestly and ethically," said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico. "The charged offenses are reprehensible, more so in light of PREPA's and Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis."

FEMA said in a statement that the agency takes allegations of employee misconduct "extremely seriously" and added 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. 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."