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FEMA official, former contractor with 'personal relationship' charged in Puerto Rico corruption case


The two are accused of fraud linked with Hurricane Maria disaster recovery efforts

Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Federal Emergency Management Agency official who oversaw the restoration of Puerto Rico's power grid following Hurricane Maria has been arrested on federal corruption charges, along with a former contractor with whom she had a "personal relationship."

What are the details?

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice announced the indictments of FEMA Region II Deputy Regional Administrator Asha Tribble and former president of Cobra Acquisitions, LLC., Donald Ellison. Prosecutors allege that the two "developed a personal relationship wherein Ellison provided Tribble with things of value with the intent to influence Tribble's performance of official acts."

The press release goes on to state that "Ellison provided Tribble with personal helicopter use, hotel accommodations, airfare, personal security services, and the use of a credit card."

Authorities say Tribble, in exchange, actively directed recovery projects to Ellison's firm — which was awarded contracts valued at more than $1.8 billion dollars — paid with FEMA funds.

The New York Times reported that according to U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, Ellison and Tribble "traveled together and stayed in the same room," and Cobra's competitors claim "Ms. Tribble was seen publicly socializing with Mr. Ellison in San Juan in a manner that suggested a romantic relationship."

Ellison's lawyer, Bill Leone, told The Washington Post that the indictment "criminalizes normal business and personal relationships that are not criminal under the law, no matter how far you stretch it."

Anything else?

Charges were also brought against a former FEMA employee Jovanda Patterson in connection with the same investigation. Patterson is accused of committing acts affecting personal financial conflicts of interest by allegedly conducting evaluations of Cobra as a FEMA employee while actively negotiating employment with the contractor.

Patterson left FEMA to work for Cobra in July 2018.

Ellison remained president of Cobra until June of this year. He is currently fighting the government for seizing his assets, including a $4.5 million retirement account, a 40-foot catamaran, his Ford truck and machinery.

Tribble has been suspended from FEMA but not terminated. She has been a longtime federal employee, formerly serving as a Homeland Security adviser under the Obama administration.

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