Almost two years since charges were filed, the trial of former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and former JEA Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher is set to begin Feb. 20 at the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse in Jacksonville.
The selection of two juries, one for each defendant, is scheduled to begin Feb. 15 before Senior U.S. District Judge Brian Davis at the courthouse.
A federal grand jury indicted Zahn and Wannemacher on March 20, 2022. They are accused of conspiracy and wire fraud in connection with a proposed bonus plan that, had it not been squelched by JEA’s board of directors, would have paid out millions of dollars to certain employees if the city-owned utility were sold.
Each entered not guilty pleas.
In the Statement of Case document filed with the court Jan. 12, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva, lead prosecutor, laid out the details of the government’s allegations in The United States of America v. Aaron Zahn and Ryan Wannemacher:
The Indictment in this case sets forth two charges, or counts.
“Count One charges the defendants, Aaron Zahn, former Chief Executive Officer of the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA), and Ryan Wannemacher, former Chief Financial Officer of JEA, with a conspiracy (1) to embezzle, steal, obtain by fraud, and convert to their own use money with a value of at least $5,000, owned by the City of Jacksonville and its agency JEA, a city government and municipal utility, which received funding of more than $10,000 from a Federal government program; and (2) to commit wire fraud.”
Count Two of the indictment charges the defendants with wire fraud, that is, with engaging in a scheme to defraud that was carried out, in part, through the transmission of a wire communication in interstate commerce.
The law defines a conspiracy as an agreement between two or more people to accomplish a shared and unlawful plan, in this case to embezzle or steal money from the city of Jacksonville and JEA and to commit wire fraud.
The heart of a conspiracy is the making of the unlawful plan itself followed by the commission of any overt act in furtherance of the plan. The government does not have to prove that the defendants succeeded in carrying out the plan.
The time frame of the alleged crimes is between in or around March 2019 through in or around November 2019.
Under federal law, the conspiracy charge carries a maximum punishment of not more than five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. Conviction for wire fraud carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years and fines up to $250,000 for each act of wire fraud along with probation and restitution.
On Jan. 19, the government filed its list of witnesses to be called to testify in the trial, including:
• FBI Special Agent Robert Blythe
• FBI Special Agent Angela Hill
• FBI computer scientist Tim McCrohan
• Paul McElroy, former JEA CEO
• Melissa Dykes, former JEA COO and interim CEO
• Jay Stowe, current JEA managing director and CEO
• Madricka Jones, JEA executive assistant to the CEO
• Pat Maillis, JEA director of employee services
• Joe Orfano, JEA vice president of financial services
• Tim Hunt, JEA director of customer and utility analytics
• Valerie Gutierrez, JEA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
• April Green, former JEA board chair
• Kelly Flanagan, former JEA board member
• Andrew “Andy” Allen, former JEA board member
• Alan Howard, former JEA board member
• Fred Newbill, former JEA board member
• Camille Lee Johnson, former JEA board member
• Sam Mousa, former city chief administrative officer
• Matt Schellenberg, former City Council member
• Jason Gabriel, former city of Jacksonville general counsel
• Lynne Rhode, former city deputy general counsel and JEA legal officer
• Kim Taylor, City Council auditor
• Jeff Rodda, assistant Council auditor
• Kyle Billy, former Council auditor
• Pam Rauch, vice president, external affairs and economic development at Florida Power & Light Co.
• Mark Hickson, executive vice president, strategy and corporate development, NextEra Energy Partners
• David Wathen, Willis Towers Watson managing director and executive compensation practice leader
• Anton Derkach, McKinsey & Co. senior partner, electric power and natural gas practice
• Stephen Amdur, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, private equity attorney
• Kevin Hyde, Foley & Lardner partner
• Elizabeth Columbo, Nixon Peabody partner and public finance attorney
• Jason Gredell, JP Morgan Chase executive director
• Edward Manheimer, Morgan Stanley managing director and head of power, utility and renewables mergers and acquisitions
• Jeff Panger, Standard & Poor’s Global director
• Navid Nowakhtar, Florida Municipal Power Agency asset and strategic planning director