‘Why do you think you’re innocent?’ Action News Jax confronts former JEA exec outside courthouse

Jacksonville, FL — Two former JEA leaders are facing up to 25 years in prison.

Former CEO Aaron Zahn and former CFO Ryan Wannemacher have been charged with conspiring to steal millions of dollars from the city through the failed sale of JEA.

The charges come after a two-year investigation.

Prosecutors said the two were “conspiring to steal and obtain by fraud funds from the City of Jacksonville which would have been generated from the sale of JEA.”

Federal officials have been investigating the failed JEA sale since January 2020, when it was turned over by the state attorney’s office. According to the indictment, the bonus plan from the sale could have paid out up to $345 million to Zahn, Wannemacher and others.

The idea of exploring a sale was supported by Jacksonville City Hall, including mayor Lenny Curry, who appointed Zahn to the JEA board.

[RELATED: Investigation into JEA sale]

The JEA board voted in July 2019 to explore going private. It came years after the idea was first broached but never gained significant traction.

JEA was critiqued for its handling of the process, including a lack of transparency and legal costs.

Former JEA board member Lisa Weatherby blames Mayor Lenny Curry, whom she butted heads with before resigning from the board as chair-elect in 2015.

[RELATED: JEA sale off table]

She said, “I sat in and watched the interviews for new CEO positions. It was laughable. It was a travesty. Aaron Zahn had no qualifications except bad qualifications.”

She went on to say the charges are “a long time coming. I hope it’s not the end of it because I don’t think the two indicted are the head of the snake. So I’m hopeful for more.”

Mayor Curry’s office sent Action News Jax a statement that read: “My administration has, and will continue, to cooperate with all official inquiries into the management of our local utility. Beyond that, I will reserve further comment at this time out of respect for the ongoing legal process.”

Zahn and Wannemacher are expected to appear before a federal judge Tuesday afternoon.

Action News Jax confronted the former JEA executive Aaron Zahn as he was leaving the courthouse. Watch the video below: