FEMA Press Conference. Photo by DHS.

Two Former FEMA Employees Indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Bribery

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Tuesday U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico, announced the indictment and arrest, of two former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employees, and the former president of a major disaster relief contractor over their attempt to defraud the U.S. in the wake of Hurricane María.

According to the announcement, Ahsha Tribble, FEMA Sector Lead working in Puerto Rico, along with FEMA Deputy Chief of Staff Jovanda Patterson, and Donald Ellison the president of Cobra Acquisitions, have been indicted for: 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.

Patterson, it’s alleged was given a job at the urging of Tribble, who had according to prosecutors developed a personal relationship with Ellison, who would supply Tribble with influential things of value to influence Tribble’s performance of official acts.

According to the indictment Ellison provided Tribble with helicopter use, airfare, use of a credit, and hotel accommodations.

In exchange for the gifts of value, Tribble performed “official acts, including influencing, advising, and exerting pressure,” on Puerto Rico Electric Power and Authority and FEMA officials, in order to award restoration work to Cobra and accelerate payments to Cobra.  

The Washington Post reported that Patterson resigned from FEMA in 2018, when she went to work for Cobra Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Oklahoma City-based Mammoth Energy Services inc.. It’s estimated that the contracts given to Cobra are worth $1.8 billion.

Ellison resigned from Cobra in June of 2019 and has been charged with making false statements to investigators when approached regarding his relationship with Tribble.

U.S. Attorney Rodríguez-Vélez said in a statement, “These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane María. Instead, they decided 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.”

NBC News reports that Tribble, is currently on unpaid leave from the agency.