JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A federal judge has delayed the criminal trial of two former JEA executives charged with conspiracy and wire fraud from October of this year to February 2024, following a request made by attorneys.
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.
U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis issued his ruling on the motion Thursday afternoon, one day after attorneys made their formal request. The motion, filed jointly by prosecutors and defense attorneys, outlines several reasons why they asked for a delay. 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.