Federal Emergency Bureaucracy Displays More Corruption Inherent in the System

“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth,” President Trump tweeted last month. “Their political system is broken and their politicians are either incompetent or corrupt.” There may be some basis for that overstatement, but when the FBI got down to busting corrupt officials for misconduct on the island, they turned out to be bosses of a federal government agency.

As NBC News reports, FEMA officials Ahsha Tribble, Jovanda Patterson and Donald Keith Ellison of energy company Cobra Acquisition came to Puerto Rico in 2017 as part of hurricane relief efforts. The three now face 15 counts including wire and disaster fraud as well as conspiracy to commit fraud.

As authorities are charging, Tribble and Patterson received expensive gifts in exchange for helping Ellison and COBRA Acquisition land lucrative contracts in Puerto Rico. A Department of Justice statement flagged an attempt “to defraud the United States” and a statement from the FBI’s Douglass Leff proclaimed: “While there is no known cure to permanently rid society of corruption, there are certain powerful antidotes, namely, arrests and prosecutions. Swift and certain justice will be delivered to all those who would steal funds from citizens most in need.” This is hardly the first time FEMA has been under fire.

As David Skarabek and Emily Skarabek noted in 2011, “FEMA’s work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was a spectacular failure. The relief efforts and resources were delivered too slowly, to the wrong people, and in insufficient levels.” To cover their failures, FEMA also prevented charitable groups like the American Red Cross from entering New Orleans and FEMA “consistently responds to political influence rather than the victims’ needs.”

In 2003, FEMA was placed under the Department of Homeland Security, as Mary Theroux noted in 2008, and after Hurricane Katrina there was “widespread agreement that the agency utterly failed.” FEMA’s power grab of the disaster relief sector, Theroux contended, “will predictably result in many more congressional investigations into FEMA’s future failures.” Those failures are again on display in the recent indictments of Tribble, Patterson and Ellison.

There is considerable evidence that, to paraphrase President Trump, FEMA officials are either “incompetent or corrupt.” If the president ever gets around to slimming down the bloated federal government, FEMA would be a good place to start.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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