Trump Administration Officials Arrested for Scamming Puerto Rico Out of $1.8 Billion in Hurricane Relief Funds

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Remember when Trump blasted Puerto Rico’s government for their corruption and thievery, explaining that he was the best thing that ever happened to that foreign country whose president’s name he couldn’t quite remember?

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Well, it turned out, it was his own people who were actually doing the scamming.

A federal grand jury indicted two former Trump administration officials and a utility company chief on Tuesday, Sept. 3, charging them with bribery, fraud, fraud, and more fraud for diverting disaster relief funds into their own pockets, prompting their boss, U.S. president and first-ballot Con Artist Hall Of Famer Donald Trump to issue a statement saying:

“Wait? It’s illegal for a federal official to profit off taxpayer money? Let me check on that because that can’t be right, so… Oh, I see. They weren’t white. That explains it.”

According to the Department of Justice, federal prosecutors returned an indictment against Donald Keith Ellison, former President of Cobra Acquisitions, FEMA Deputy Administrator Asha Tribble and Jovanda Patterson, who was the former chief of staff for FEMA but you probably don’t remember her name because — and I swear the FBI’s indictment says this, she was “better known as JoJo.”

And Jojo ‘nem be stealing.

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the Trump administration sent JoJo to Puerto Rico to oversee the rebuilding of the island’s power sector and infrastructure, according to FEMA’s website which hasn’t been updated because Trump probably fired the only person who knows the Squarespace password. Federal agents allege that as soon as Tribble was put in charge, Ellison, who was the president of the utility contractor COBRA Acquisitions, started lavishing her with gifts. And then Asha’s homegirl JoJo just up and left her good government job and went to work for COBRA.

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The DOJ notes: 

From October 2017 to April 2019, Tribble and Ellison developed a personal relationship 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, personal security services, and the use of a credit card. As part of Ellison’s pattern of providing things of value to Tribble, he also secured employment within COBRA’s affiliated companies for her friend, defendant Patterson. In exchange, Tribble performed official acts, including influencing, advising, and exerting pressure on PREPA and FEMA officials, in order to award restoration work to COBRA and accelerate payments to COBRA

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Now I’m sure this was probably a coincidence, but somehow, this brand new utility company got a $200 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid four days after they made their bid. And then Tribble doubled it to $455 million. A few weeks later, she doubled it again to $945 million. And, because shady people don’t usually practice restraint, they doubled it again, until the contract reached $1.8 billion, the Associated Press reports. The people of Puerto Rico probably wouldn’t have been bothered by this except for one reason:

The power kept going out.

They had one job.

While I would never insinuate anything untoward in this relationship, the New York Times thought you should also know that when Tribble used Ellison’s credit cards to pay for trips to New York, Charlotte, N.C., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., they always stayed in the same room. Now I know what you’re thinking but I’m sure they were just trying to save money. $1.8 million doesn’t go as far as it used to go.

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When Agents interviewed Ellison, he stated that he didn’t even know Tribble like that, explaining that he only had a business relationship with her and never gave her a helicopter ride. After the FBI charged him with making false statements, Ellison said he did give Tribble a ride (on the helicopter, dummy) but she paid him back. Investigators quietly seized Ellison’s bank accounts while they were investigating the threesome’s shenanigans. The inquiry wasn’t publicly known until Ellison brazenly filed a brief demanding that the FBI release his money.

“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.”

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The trio has been charged with:

  • Conspiracy to commit bribery of public officials;
  • Acts affecting a personal financial interest;
  • Making false statements;
  • Disaster fraud;
  • Honest services wire fraud;
  • Travel Act violations;
  • Wire fraud

“I’m going to have my lawyers look into whether this is actually illegal,” said Trump. “Vladimir told me it was ok.”

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Tribble is on unpaid suspension.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.