A federal grand jury indicted former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and former Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher with conspiring to steal and obtain by fraud money that would have been generated from the sale of the city-owned utility.
The March 2 indictment was released to the public March 7.
Zahn and Wannemacher are scheduled for an initial appearance at 2:30 p.m. March 8, at the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse Downtown in Courtroom 5C, according to a federal court filing. U.S. Magistrate Judge Monte C. Richardson will preside over what the filing says will be an arraignment and hearing to set bond.
If convicted on all counts, Zahn, 42, and Wannemacher, 40, face up to 25 years in federal prison.
An indictment is a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
The indictment stems from the abandoned effort to potentially sell city-owned JEA in 2019.
According to the indictment, Zahn and Wannemacher worked together to devise a Long-Term Performance Unit Plan that would have paid them and other JEA employees millions of dollars in bonuses had the utility been sold.
Ultimately, after information began to develop about the PUP and the bonuses that would have been paid, the JEA board of directors stopped the sale process on Dec. 24, 2019.
The indictment charges Zahn and Wannemacher worked together to craft the PUP formula using JEA’s financial statements to ensure that they would receive millions of dollars when JEA was sold.
The indictment also alleges that Zahn and Wannemacher made material misrepresentations about and otherwise hid the true nature of the PUP from the JEA board, members of the Jacksonville City Council, other JEA executives and members of the public.
The indictment said that during the Invitation to Negotiate, the process used for the potential sale of the utility, Zahn crafted minimum requirements that would appeal to the JEA board, members of City Council, and the public and, at the same time, ensure that the PUP bonus plan would pay out millions of dollars to holders of PUP units. The overwhelming majority those units would have been available to Zahn, Wannemacher and certain others if the utility was sold.
Zahn and Wannemacher were fired by JEA in 2019.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Attorney’s Office for the 4th Judicial Circuit. It will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva.