Ahsha Tribble, the former deputy regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Region II charged with fraud over federal funds allocated to Puerto Rico following Hurricane María, pleaded not guilty yesterday during a hearing in Federal Court in Hato Rey.
Tribble faces up to 30 years in prison and up to five years of supervised release. In the courtroom, before the beginning of the hearing, the defendant's attorney, Juan Acevedo Cruz, approached the federal prosecutor in charge, Seth Erbe, and referred to the recent agreement between the prosecution and former Recreation and Sports Secretary, Ramón Orta Rodríguez. Prosecutor Erbe did not answer.
Orta Rodríguez pleaded guilty Tuesday, but with the agreement reached, 22 out of 23 charges of corruption he faced were dismissed, and he would only serve a maximum of 18 months in jail.
The former FEMA official faces 10 counts of disaster fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud, and Travel Act violations. Tribble will remain on parole while waiting for the trial and will be supervised by the central district of the state of Florida.
Judge Silvia Carreño set the bail at $ 10,000. The defendant's passport was also withheld, but she will be able to travel between Florida, Georgia, New York, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Tribble, who was Acevedo Cruz and her other attorney Deana Timberlake, did not make comments as she walked into the courtroom. Federal authorities initially arrested her in Florida on September 10 after she was indicted by a grand jury. Judge Francisco Besosa had ordered her appearance no later than October 4.
The indictment is related to contracts awarded by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to Cobra Acquisitions, LLC, to repair the island's power grid after Hurricanes Irma and María. The company was awarded two contracts totaling $1.9 billion between 2017 and 2019, PREPA paid $1.1 billion of those contracts. According to PREPA Executive Director José Ortiz in previous statements, other bills were not processed after FEMA stopped reimbursements.
Tribble, former deputy regional administrator FEMA Region II, assigned to Puerto Rico as part of the emergency, was Tribble had been placed on administrative leave in May as authorities investigated allegations against her and her alleged collaboration with Cobra.
Former Cobra Energy President Donald Keith Ellison Donald Keith Ellison and Jovanda R. were also arrested. Patterson, then FEMA deputy chief of staff were also arrested. Both Ellison and Patterson have previously appeared in Court.
According to the indictment, the defendants attempted or concealed their actions by communicating through private e-mail accounts, Tribble's private telephone number, Apple's iMessage, SMS text messages and photographs, rather than through Tribble's FEMA e-mail account or the federal agency's cell phone.
In exchange for Tribble pushing the contracting of Cobra services, Ellison allegedly compensated Tribble with gifts such as a helicopter tour over Puerto Rico on February 2018, access to and use of an apartment in San Juan, helped her get a place to live in New York in February of the same year, tickets to travel to destinations such as Orlando in July 2018 and Washington D.C. in November 2018.
Tribble also 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 closed Patterson's contract with Cobra Energy.
According to the indictment, Tribble pushed PREPA executives, influenced them and used every opportunity to benefit the company.
For example, following the explosion at the Monacillos substation in San Juan in February 2018, the former federal official allegedly pushed PREPA executives to use Cobra employees to perform repair works, even though PREPA officials allegedly insisted to do the repairs with state employees.
Tribble also provided Ellison with information about PREPA, which she obtained because of her official position, in exchange for expensive gifts.