Former JEA Executives Aaron Zahn and Ryan Wannemacher Stand Trial for Conspiracy and Wire Fraud Charges

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Jury selection has begun for the upcoming federal trial of former JEA executives Aaron Zahn and Ryan Wannemacher. Almost two years after being indicted, the former CEO and chief financial officer of the utility company are facing charges of conspiracy and wire fraud. The charges are related to a proposed bonus plan that prosecutors claim could have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts if the utility had been sold. Zahn and Wannemacher pleaded not guilty to the charges following their indictment in March 2022.

The trial will have separate juries for each defendant, with one jury being selected on Thursday and the other on Friday. Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday, and the trial is expected to last approximately four weeks. If convicted on all charges, Zahn and Wannemacher could face up to 25 years in federal prison.

The selection of jurors for Zahn’s trial encountered some challenges due to the trial’s length. The judge informed attorneys that it was difficult to find jurors without hardships, resulting in a potential jury pool of around 45 individuals. Nineteen jurors indicated that they had prior knowledge of the case, requiring individual questioning in private. The court had a brief recess before continuing the questioning process.

In a pretrial hearing, the court examined whether the witnesses’ testimony had been influenced by statements made by Zahn and Wannemacher to city attorneys in January 2020. The statements were given during an investigation into whether Zahn could be terminated from his position. However, these statements cannot be used against them in the federal criminal case. The hearing featured testimony from a retired FBI computer scientist and an attorney from the city’s Office of General Counsel, who had worked with JEA during the proposed sale of the utility in 2019. The FBI expert provided information about metadata present in Excel spreadsheets related to the proposed bonus plan, while the attorney discussed her involvement with JEA and the legal memos prepared for the plan.

Defense attorneys did not raise any questions regarding exposure to the protected statements during the hearing. Additionally, discussions took place among the judge and attorneys to establish trial procedures.

The trial of Zahn and Wannemacher will likely shed light on the alleged conspiracy and wire fraud charges they face. Both defendants maintain their innocence, and the trial proceedings will determine their fate. As the trial unfolds over the next four weeks, the jury’s decision will have significant consequences for the former JEA executives and the future of the utility company.