Sept. 10 (UPI) -- A person who was deployed as a FEMA official to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, was arrested Tuesday on charges related to taking bribes to favor a contractor in the island's recovery.
Prosecutors accuse Tribble of taking gifts from the president of contracting firm Cobra Acquisition in exchange for pressuring FEMA and the local power authorities to award nearly $2 billion in contracts to the company, according to the indictment announced Tuesday. Together, they were accused of conspiring to defraud the federal government.
The former president of Cobra Acquisitions, Donald Keith Ellison, was also arrested along with a second FEMA employee, Jovanda R. Patterson, who worked as deputy chief of staff under Tribble, Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, the U.S. attorney for Puerto Rico, said.
Rodriguez-Velez said Ellison and Tribble had a "close personal relationship" where Ellison lavished her with gifts in exchange for her using her influence in FEMA to give Cobra an advantage.
Among the gifts were a helicopter tour over Puerto Rico and securing an apartment for her in New York, authorities said. Gifts also included a first-class ticket from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to New York and hotel stays in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C.
Rodriguez-Velez added that Ellison and Tribble traveled together and stayed in the same room.
Tribble allegedly advanced Cobra's interests in exchange for the gifts despite expense.
In particular, according to the indictment, after Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported an explosion at a transmission center, Tribble insisted that the public utility would risk not getting reimbursed by FEMA even though utility leaders said they could do the same work for less cost.
Hurricane Maria made landfall over Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, as a Category 4 storm, wiping out power across the entire island and leading to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.
"These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane Maria," Rodriguez-Velez said. "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."
A FEMA official said Tribble is in a "non-duty-, non pay status" and is cooperating with prosecutors.