This file photo from 2018 shows a PREPA brigade working in Levittown, Toa Baja. (GFR Media) (semisquare-x3)
This file photo from 2018 shows a PREPA brigade working in Levittown, Toa Baja. (GFR Media)

Washington- The U.S. Attorney's office in San Juan is investigating a FEMA Deputy Regional Administrator that was sent to Puerto Rico after Hurricane María to oversee the reconstruction of the power grid, over allegations that she could have diverted contracts to Cobra Acquisitions Energy, El Nuevo Día confirmed yesterday.

The investigation against Ahsha Tribble has focused on whether she improperly favored Cobra's interests, which obtained two contracts - totaling $1.845 billion - with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to restore the island's power grid seriously damaged by Hurricane María on September 20, 2017.

The investigation against Tribble, who has been FEMA's Deputy Regional Administrator for Region 2 - which includes Puerto Rico - started in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Tribble's attorney in Puerto Rico, Leo Aldridge, acknowledged that there is an investigation against his client.

Tribble, who arrived in Puerto Rico in November 2017 and was in charge of the Energy sector - was separated from her position and placed on administrative leave about 10 days ago because of the investigation.

Aldridge said that Tribble “unambiguously states that during the entire time she worked for FEMA in Puerto Rico she acted appropriately, within the provisions of the law, and seeking the prompt recovery of the island.”

The lawyer added that she has not been criminally accused and that they trust that if the Federal Attorney's office thoroughly investigates and examines the information that they will provide, she will not be accused. He also explained that Dr. Tribble will appeal her job suspension.

The attorney warned that the contracts were awarded by PREPA, not by FEMA and that ultimately payments to Cobra depended on FEMA.

Tribble holds a Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. When she was sent to San Juan, she was FEMA's Deputy Administrator in charge of Region 9, based in San Francisco, California.

Tribble is remembered for testifying on February 1, 2018 at an Oversight Board's public hearing on PREPA in New York.

Back then, Tribble said that Cobra and Whitefish did good work, and that during the emergency PREPA's high level of bureaucracy was a major obstacle. “It does not work…when you have eight layers to be able to approve something.” 

At the time, the Whitefish scandal - a two-person company with no experience in repairs like the ones the island needed following the emergency- was under congressional investigation and still fresh in the memory of the public. El Nuevo Día also revealed the high rates included in Cobra's contracts.

Cobra, a subsidiary of Mammouth Energy Services of Oklahoma, was originally hired –just like Whitefish- by PREPA former executive director Ricardo Ramos.

Cobra's initial contract with PREPA stated that the company intended to develop a facility describes as “camp” with space for up to 550 workers.  That first contract was for a maximum of $200,000.

FEMA avoided making comments on Tribble or on the allegations against her.

“FEMA cannot comment on staff matters; however, as usual, the agency complies with all requests and investigations directed by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” said Juan A. Rosado Reynés, FEMA spokesman in Puerto Rico.

Keeping distance

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (FAFAA), Christian Sobrino Vega, affirmed that the investigation “has nothing to do with actions by the government or by PREPA.”

Although federal authorities may have conducted interviews, Sobrino Vega said they understood that “they were related to Mrs. Tribble's actions.”

Sobrino Vega said that the investigation deals with an alleged relationship with Cobra and its CEO Keith Ellison, and he stressed that the government is “willing to cooperate with this and any other investigation being carried out.”

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