Former FEMA Officer Pleads Not Guilty Of Fraud With Funds From Hurricane Maria

Former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official, Ahsha Tribble, accused of fraud against disaster funds assigned to Puerto Rico, pleaded not guilty to the charges during an initial hearing this afternoon at the Federal Court in Hato King.

Tribble faces up to 30 years in jail and up to five years of supervised freedom. The former official will remain on parole pending trial and will be supervised by a probation officer. Judge Silvia Carreño set a bail of $ 10,000.

The defendant also had her passport retained, as requested by federal prosecutor Seth Erbe, in charge of the case. Carreño authorized the former FEMA official to travel between Florida, Georgia, New York, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

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Tribble arrived accompanied by his lawyers, Juan Acevedo and Deana Timberlake, and did not comment while walking inside the Court. After a grand jury accused her, federal authorities arrested her on September 10 in Florida and Judge Francisco Besosa had ordered her appearance, no later than October 4, a date that is reached tomorrow.

The accusation is linked to the contracts granted by the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to the company Cobra Acquisitions, LLC, for the repair of the electrical system of the island after the scourge of hurricanes Irma and María. This company obtained two contracts that amounted to $ 1.9 billion between 2017 and 2019. At the time of the accusation, PREPA had already paid $ 1.1 billion to the company.

Tribble, then an alternate administrator of FEMA Region II and assigned to the emergency in Puerto Rico, faces 10 charges for fraud against disaster funds, conspiracy to commit bribery, electronic fraud for honest services and violations of the Travel Act. The former official was separated from his position at FEMA in May, when there were allegations about his alleged collaboration with Cobra.

In addition to her, Donald Keith Ellison, president of Cobra until June 2019, and Jovanda R. Patterson, then deputy head of FEMA staff, were arrested. Both Ellison and Patterson already appeared before the Court.

According to the accusation, the defendants hid and tried to hide their actions by communicating through private email accounts, Tribble's private phone number, Apple's iMessages, SMS text messages and photographs, instead of doing so through the Tribble FEMA email account or the FEMA cell phone.

In exchange for her collaboration, Ellison allegedly compensated Tribble with gifts such as a helicopter trip over Puerto Rico in February 2018, access and use of an apartment in San Juan, helped her find a place to live in New York in February same year, tickets to travel to destinations such as Orlando in July 2018 and Washington DC in November 2018.

In addition, Tribble received first-class tickets from San Juan to New York in September 2018; hotel stays in Fort Lauderdale and Charlotte, in July and November 2018, respectively; access to an Ellison credit card and negotiated and completed the hiring of Patterson in Cobra Energy.

According to the accusation, Tribble put pressure on PREPA executives, influenced and seized any opportunity to benefit the company.

For example, following the explosion of the Monacillos substation in San Juan in February 2018, the former federal official allegedly pressured PREPA executives to use Cobra employees for repair, despite the fact that PREPA officials allegedly insisted that state employees be used.

In addition, Tribble provided information to Ellison about PREPA obtained by its official position, in exchange for gifts of high purchasing value.

The investigation was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Inspector General – Fraud and Corruption Unit, with the support of the FBI.

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