FEMA Official Charged with Fraud Over Hurricane Maria Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico

The corruption in Puerto Rico rages on and the most vulnerable people on the island continue to be affected

Photo: Unsplash/@koopfilms

Photo: Unsplash/@koopfilms

The corruption in Puerto Rico rages on and the most vulnerable people on the island continue to be affected. Two people responsible for restoring electricity on the island post-Hurricane Maria not only failed to do so but inflated their own pockets instead.

Earlier this week, federal authorities announced they arrested a top Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employee and the president of a company that was hired to restore the electricity grid in Puerto Rico.

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,” U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, the top federal prosecutor in Puerto Rico, said in a statement provided by CNN.

Ahsha Nateef Tribble, a now-former FEMA deputy regional administrator, was sent to Puerto Rico after the hurricane to asses the damage there and to conduct a plan to restore electricity. Instead of managing the project by giving the contract to the best company for the job, Tribble took bribes from ex-president Donald Keith Ellison of Cobra Acquisitions LLC in order to gain billions of dollars worth of contracts.

Both of the employees have been fired, as well as a friend of Tribble who was offered a job at Cobra Acquisitions.

NBC Philadelphia reports that Tribble accepted Ellison’s bribes including “airline flights, hotel accommodations, personal security services and the use of a credit card.”

CNN also reports that Tribble and Ellison built a “personal relationship” during 2017 and 2018. Ellison’s attorney stressed that there’s nothing wrong with Tribble and Ellison’s relationship.

He has done nothing wrong,” Bill Leone, Ellison’s lawyer, told NBC Philadelphia. “There’s just absolutely nothing to prohibit that.”

Federal officials charged both individuals with “conspiracy to commit bribery and disaster fraud.” If found guilty, “they could face up to 30 years in prison.”

This latest unraveling comes on the heels of Puerto Rico’s uprising against their former Governor Ricardo Rosselló. He was ousted this summer after making disparaging comments in leaked text messages. Since Rosselló left his post, a former lawyer Pedro Pierluisi took over as governor. He was quickly told to vacate the seat by the U.S. territory’s Supreme Court because they ruled his placement was invalid.

Now the former Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez is Puerto Rico’s new governor.

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