Federal prosecutors recently announced that several officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been arrested on fraud and conspiracy charges related to recovery efforts for Hurricane Maria.
FEMA’s former regional administrator Ahsha Tribble, her former deputy, Jovanda Patterson and the former president of Cobra Donal Ellison were all arrested and face a 15-count indictment. Charges included conspiracy to bribe public officials, false statements and fraud.
The Insurance Journal spoke with Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, U.S. attorney for Puerto Rico about these recent arrests. “These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane Maria,” said Rodriguez-Velez. “Instead, they decided to take advantage of the precarious conditions of our electric power grid.”
The facts themselves make it abundantly clear that something was not right. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority gave $1.8 billion worth of contracts to Cobra to help repair the island’s power grid after Maria. According to Rodriguez-Velez, Ellison gave airline tickets, helicopter access and more to Tribble in exchange for help securing these contracts for Cobra. Not long after Patterson left FEMA to work for Cobra.
Angel Rosario Lozada, a historian at National University College in Puerto Rico gave a striking summation of the scandal to the Insurance Journal. “There is a serious corruption problem that goes beyond the island,” said Lozada. “They arrested federal officials who orchestrated a corruption scheme that affected the lives of thousands of Puerto Ricans.”
In the past, President Trump has claimed that Puerto Rico received roughly $91 billion in aid. U.S. lawmakers allocated $42.6 billion in disaster aid, but according to federal data only $15 billion has been spent on the island so far.
A FEMA spokesperson said that the agency will not comment on personnel matters, but is fully cooperating with federal investigators.
While arrests have been made, due process still needs its day. At this time, all of the crimes discussed in this article are still alleged. However, federal prosecutors seem confident in the case that they are bringing against these officials.