Attorneys ask for delay for federal trial for former JEA executives

Aaron Zahn and Ryan Wannemacher (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Attorneys involved in the federal case against two former JEA executives charged with conspiracy and wire fraud are asking a judge to delay the trial from October of this year to February 2024.

Former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and his former chief financial officer Ryan Wannemacher were indicted in March 2022, charged in connection with a proposed bonus plan that could have paid out millions of dollars if JEA were sold. The plan was proposed in the summer of 2019, as JEA’s board explored the possibility of privatization.

The motion, filed jointly by prosecutors and defense attorneys, outlines several reasons for the request. First, attorneys say there are pre-trial matters that still need to be addressed, some of which are tied to issues discussed in the “extensive” Kastigar evidentiary hearing that recently concluded after eight days of testimony. The purpose of the hearing was for federal prosecutors to prove that their case is not built on or derived from statements that Zahn and Wannemacher gave to city attorneys in January 2020. The statements, which were part of an investigation into whether Zahn could be fired as CEO with “cause,” are covered by what’s called Garrity protections. Those are extended to public employees who are compelled to testify as part of a workplace investigation and protect those statements from being used against them criminally.

In the motion, attorneys write that over the next two months, they will be preparing additional briefings for the judge related to the Kastigar hearing. They also state that other motions, such as one by Zahn’s attorneys asking that the trial be moved to Tampa, have still not been settled, and partially rely on what the judge finds following the Kastigar hearing.

The attorneys also said that they have spent a lot of time in recent months preparing for the Kastigar hearing, and while some of that preparation overlapped with trial preparation, much of it did not. Attorneys said the heart of the preparation for the hearing was the source of the evidence, not the substance of the evidence.

The motion also gives the voluminous evidence in the case as another reason for the requested delay, including some new documents received in just the last few months that does not overlap with evidence previously produced.

Attorneys had previously suggested they would be asking for this delay during a status conference held last week, in the midst of the Kastigar hearing. It will be up to a judge to determine whether or not to grant the request to delay the trial.