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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Cobra president alleged in testimony that ex-PREPA chief, lawyer offered to help with claim

Cobra Energy President Donald Keith Ellison

By The Star Staff

Cobra Energy President Donald Keith Ellison charged in his criminal case in U.S. District Court that former Puerto Electric Power Authority (PREPA) Executive Director José Ortiz and lawyer Jerome Garffer attempted to make his $268 million claim against the energy utility go away in exchange for $1.8 million, documents show.

The documents, which were posted on Twitter by another media outlet as they were classified as confidential by the federal court, are part of the criminal case against Ellison, who was charged in an alleged bribery scheme in which Ellison paid Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials to get a contract with PREPA after two Category 5 hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017.

One defendant, Cobra employee Jovanda Patterson, has pleaded guilty.

Ellison and another defendant, Ahsha Tribble, the former deputy regional administrator of FEMA’s Region II, are facing a criminal trial.

According to testimony from Ellison given to FBI officials in 2019, Ortiz told Ellison that he had a friend who was a lawyer who could help him with his problems with PREPA, in reference to Garffer.

A week later, Ellison said Garffer told him in a telephone conversation that he had contacts in government as he used to be a finance director to the New Progressive Party and that he could “wave a wand” and Cobra’s problems with PREPA could go away. However, he would have to be hired as a lawyer for a fee of 1/10th of a percent, $1.8 million.

Ellison said in the testimony that he thought Garffer was trying to bribe him.

Cobra has not been paid amounts owed for its work completed in 2019 pending the outcome in the federal criminal trial.

Last year, Cobra’s lawyer Abid Qureshi expressed frustration at “the lack of progress” and unfairness of the situation during an omnibus hearing. Hadassa Waxman, a lawyer who spoke on behalf of the Financial Oversight and Management Board, said events such as the criminal trial may result in the invalidation of some of PREPA’s obligations to Cobra.

PREPA may not need to pay Cobra at all if officials are found guilty because Puerto Rico law does not allow contracts with companies convicted of certain crimes.

The Office of the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security last year issued a report that found PREPA’s contracts with Cobra and Whitefish Energy did not comply with federal guidelines.

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