Puerto Rico’s electric system recovery marred by corrupt FEMA official
In 2017 Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in the deadliest natural disaster to affect the United States territory since 1899. The hurricane led to over 2,000 deaths, catastrophic damage from flooding, and a lack of resources. In one of history’s worst blackouts, Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was decimated following the hurricane, leading the US government to undergo efforts to restore electric power.
Now, a high-ranking FEMA official and the president of an energy company, both heavily involved in the endeavor of restoring power, have pleaded guilty in an ongoing fraud and bribery case following the hurricane. Donald Ellison, former president of Cobra Acquisitions, and Ahsha Tribble, a former FEMA deputy regional administrator, both admitted last month to accepting and offering gratuities, thus violating a law that prohibits public officials from giving or receiving gifts of significant value that entail personal benefits. Both parties recognized in court that Ellison gave Tribble gifts ranging from flights, to hotel stays, and security services. Tribble in exchange advocated for Cobra’s plans to redesign an electrical grid in Vieques, Puerto Rico. In a meeting with other FEMA officials, Tribble presented a proposal for the restructuring of energy distribution in Vieques, while failing to mention that the plan was written by Cobra Acquisitions, from whom she had been receiving illegal gifts.
Ellison’s company in the end obtained two contracts, worth over $1.8 billion, after Hurricane Maria. Tribble and Ellison both face approximately six months in prison if the judge approves the given plea arrangements. The crimes that both have admitted to committing, accepting, and offering gratuities, are lesser charges than conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud. The sentencing hearing for Tribble and Ellison is expected to be in August.