The former president of Cobra Acquisitions, the energy company that took over power restoration in Puerto Rico after controversial Whitefish Energy was let go, has been indicted and arrested on corruption charges related to that contract.
Donald Keith Ellison, who left Cobra in June, along with Ahsha Nateef Tribble, a deputy regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Jovanda R. Patterson, former FEMA deputy chief of staff, have been indicted and arrested on 15 counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery of public officials; acts affecting a personal financial interest; false statements and disaster fraud.
Cobra was hired to take over after Whitefish was let go from the work restoring power to Puerto Rico due to a questionable contract award.
The Puerto Rico Power Authority hired Cobra, a subsidiary of Mammoth Energy Services, under two contracts totaling $1.85 billion. According to the indictment, which was handed up on Sept. 3, Tribble used her position at FEMA and PREPA to award restoration work and expedite payments to Cobra.
According to the indictment, Ellison and Tribble had a “personal relationship” from October 2017 until April 2019, “wherein Ellison provided Tribble with things of value with the intent to influence Tribble’s performance of official acts.”
Ellison provided Tribble with personal helicopter use, hotel accommodations, airfare and the use of a credit card. Ellison also hired Tribble’s friend, Patterson, at Cobra.
“These defendants were supposed to come to Puerto Rico to help during the recovery after the devastation suffered from Hurricane María," said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. "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.”
Rodríguez-Vélez added, “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.”
Stephen Spears, former president of the Associated General Contractors of Puerto Rico, says that the indictment shows that corruption is not exclusive to Latin America. “It seems to follow large amounts of money wherever they are being spent," Spears says. "Be it private or public funds. Should they be found guilty I would hope that it shines a light on failed systems within federal appointment and procurement procedures,” he said.
Spears adds that Whitefish did good work, but said of Cobra—which reportedly got the same contract as Whitefish— “for the money they were paid they could have done more and better work.”
Mammoth said it is has been cooperating with the government on the case.