Federal authorities arrested a pair of former top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and a Federal Emergency Management Agency contractor in Puerto Rico on Tuesday in a corruption investigation.
Former deputy regional administrator Ahsha Nateef Tribble; Jovanda Patterson, Tribble’s chief of staff; and Donald Keith Ellison, former President of Cobra Acquisitions, LLC, were arrested on charges including “conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services wire fraud and disaster fraud,” according to CBS News.
The arrests come after two years of Democrats blaming President Donald Trump for criticizing Puerto Rico’s response to Hurricane Maria in 2017 when the storm devastated parts of the U.S. territory.
Trump has spent the same amount of time blaming Puerto Rico for botched emergency responses and the long recovery period.
The president’s longstanding claims, however, have now been at least somewhat justified given the nature of the recent arrests.
Tribble was FEMA’s Region II Deputy Regional Administrator assigned to power recovery in the devastated region, according to official documents posted on Twitter by CBS reporter David Begnaud.
Ellison was president of Cobra Acquisitions, LLC, which CBS reported was “the main contractor for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority” and which “executed two contracts with the agency for a total value of $1.8 billion.”
According to the documents, Patterson resigned from FEMA so that she could work at Cobra Energy, LLC.
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The trio allegedly used Tribble’s position and influence to enrich themselves during their deployment to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid after the storm.
That $1.8 billion in contracts was paid to Cobra through the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority using FEMA funds.
As time passed, the allegation states, Ellison tried to influence Tribble with gifts such as “personal helicopter use, hotel accommodations, airfare, personal security services, and the use of a credit card.”
“In exchange, Tribble performed official acts, including influence, advising, and exerting pressure on PREPA and FEMA officials, in order to award restoration work to COBRA and accelerate payments to COBRA.”
Tribble and Ellison are facing forfeiture of nearly $5 million.
“These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane Maria. 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,” U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez said in a statement, according to CBS.
The arrests and scandal are a blow to anti-Trumpers who claim the president was responsible for Puerto Rico’s slow recovery.
The biggest takeaway from this entire debacle is that government is truly terrible at responding to its people’s needs.
Yes, government is necessary for civil society to survive, but not being as directly beholden to the people as private companies, it can be slow, unresponsive, lazy and incompetent without paying nearly as high a price as private firms or individuals.
Any time someone begins talking about the wonders of socialized health care and government-run industry, just remember Hurricane Maria.