Federal Employees News Digest

Former FEMA employees indicted for conspiracy

Two top FEMA officials and a contractor have been charged with using the 2017 hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico to enrich themselves through bribery, gifts and favors by steering work to the contractor on the island.

According to the Department of Justice, Ahsha Nateef Tribble, a FEMA deputy regional administrator who'd been sent to the island to lead power recovery efforts; Jovanda R. Patterson, a FEMA deputy chief of staff also assigned to the island; and Donald Keith Ellison, president of Cobra Acquisitions, LLC, have all been charged with 15 counts related to the scheme.

“Ellison provided Tribble with personal helicopter use, hotel accommodations, airfare, personal security services, and the use of a credit card,” according to a DOJ press release. “As part of Ellison’s pattern of providing things of value to Tribble, he also secured employment within COBRA’s affiliated companies for her friend, defendant Patterson. In exchange, Tribble performed official acts, including influencing, advising, and exerting pressure on PREPA and FEMA officials, in order to award restoration work to COBRA and accelerate payments to COBRA,” the statement continued. 

Tribble awarded nearly $2 billion in contracts to Ellison’s company in return for the perks.

Charges include conspiracy to commit bribery of public officials, acts affecting a personal financial interest, making false statements; disaster fraud, honest services wire fraud, Travel Act violations, and wire fraud.

“These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane María. Instead, they decided to take advantage of the precarious conditions of our electric power grid and engaged in a bribery and honest services wire fraud scheme in order to enrich themselves illegally,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “All government officials are entrusted with performing their duties honestly and ethically. The charged offenses are reprehensible, more so in light of PREPA’s and Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis,” she added.

If found guilty, the defendants could face possible sentences of up to five to 30 years.

DOJ also noted that the charges in the indictment are “merely accusations.”


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Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

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