President Trump has repeatedly slammed Puerto Rican officials for their handling of the Hurricane Maria relief effort, decrying the unincorporated U.S. territory as “one of the most corrupt places on earth.” On Tuesday, the FBI took action to crack down on corruption involving Maria relief, though rather than targeting Puerto Rican leaders, the bureau arrested two former FEMA officials — one of whom held a key position in the Obama administration — and a contractor.
“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt,” Trump tweeted as Hurricane Dorian picked up steam two weeks ago. “Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!”
Trump’s criticism of Puerto Rican officials has been one of his steady themes since the devastating hurricane wreaked havoc on the island in 2017. Amid criticism for his supposedly “tepid response” to the disaster, Trump has repeatedly pointed the finger at Puerto Rico’s leadership, accusing them of botching the relief effort and wasting resources.
On Tuesday, Trump’s “corruption” claims about Hurricane Maria relief efforts were partly affirmed, but the alleged culprits were two former federal officials and a contractor, not Puerto Rican officials.
“A former top administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was arrested on Tuesday in a major federal corruption investigation that found that the official took bribes from the president of a company that secured $1.8 billion in federal contracts to repair Puerto Rico’s shredded electrical grid after Hurricane Maria,” The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The most high-profile of the arrests was Ahsha Tribble, FEMA’s former deputy administrator for the region including Puerto Rico who also once served as Homeland Security adviser for the Obama administration. A second former FEMA employee, Jovanda Patterson, who served as deputy chief of staff in Puerto Rico, was also arrested. The third suspect is Donald Keith Ellison, former president of Cobra Acquisitions.
Puerto Rico’s U.S Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez Vélez revealed Tuesday that Tribble had a “close personal relationship” with Ellison, the Times notes. Cobra Acquisitions went on to hire Patterson, according to Vélez.
Prosecutors say Tribble, Patterson and Ellison defrauded the federal government. Ellison allegedly offered Tribble a “stream of benefits,” including helping her get an apartment in New York, first-class airplane tickets, hotel stays, and the use of one of his credit cards in exchange for Tribble helping secure a major contract for Ellison’s company. The indictment alleges that Tribble and Ellison attempted to conceal their special relationship and gifts through various means, including using a disposable cellphone.
“In return for the gifts, Ms. Tribble is accused of performing official acts to advance Cobra’s interests,” the Times details. “For example, according to the indictment, in February 2018, after the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported an explosion at a substation in Monacillo, P.R., that left several municipalities without power, Ms. Tribble insisted that the public utility hire Cobra to make repairs or risk not getting reimbursed by FEMA — even though leaders of the utility insisted they could do the same work at a far lower cost.”