JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lawyers for two former JEA executives facing conspiracy and wire fraud charges said they plan to push for a change of venue and asked for a trial date next year.
Former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and former CFO Ryan Wannemacher were not in federal court Tuesday morning but their lawyers gave a preview of what can be expected in the coming months.
Lawyers for the indicted former executives said they would prefer a trial in May of 2023 because they have an enormous amount of evidence to comb through. One of the lawyers for Wannemacher said the charges should be dismissed because immunity was granted to him by the city council committee that investigated the JEA sale process.
A federal prosecutor asked for a slightly earlier date of March 2023. But Judge Davis made no decision on a date on Tuesday.
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The case stems from a proposed sale of the city-owned utility and allegations of an attempt to take millions in personal profits through a controversial bonus plan, which would have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Wannemacher’s lawyer argued that testimony during the city’s investigations of the JEA sale can’t be used in the trial because he was given certain legal protections under what’s called Garrity Rights, suggesting the indictment against his client should be thrown out. A federal prosecutor disputed that claim.
Federal prosecutors said 30 witness subpoenas have been issued, including to employees of NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light, which was prepared to pay $11 billion dollars for JEA.
Lawyers said they plan to file multiple motions in the coming weeks, including one to move the trial out of Jacksonville — saying pervasive media reports about their clients have tainted potential jurors — and another motion asking for separate trials for Zahn and Wannemacher.
Zahn and Wannemacher, who are both free on bond and have surrendered their passports, entered not guilty pleas last month.
If convicted on all counts, Zahn and Wannemacher each face up to 25 years in federal prison.