Former JEA CEO, CFO federally indicted on conspiracy and wire fraud charges

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Former JEA Chief Executive Officer Aaron Zahn and Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher have been federally indicted with conspiring to steal and obtain fraudulent funds from the City of Jacksonville, which would have been generated from the sale of the JEA, Jacksonville’s municipal electric and water utility company, according to a new indictment filed by the Department of Justice.

If convicted on all counts, Zahn and Wannemacher each face up to 25 years in federal prison.

In Dec. 2019, Zahn was fired after an investigation involving a controversial proposal to sell the utility and privatize services. The JEA Board voted unanimously to terminate the former CEO with cause.

According to the indictment, Zahn and Wannemacher devised a lucrative employee bonus plan known as the Performance Unit Plan (PUP) that would have paid millions of dollars to Zahn, Wannemacher, and others if JEA had been sold during the Invitation To Negotiate (ITN) in 2019.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry released the following statement:

“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’s attorneys, A. Brian Albritton and Ed Suarez, who are both based out of Tampa, released the following statement, saying that Zahn “asserts his innocence.”

“Today, Aaron Zahn learned that grand jury had indicted him as a result of actions taken during his tenure as the CEO of JEA. Mr. Zahn affirms his innocence, denies any wrongdoing and is eager to present his case to a jury.

“Mr. Zahn has a lengthy and accomplished public record in the Jacksonville community as a father, husband, and business leader. This public record includes his acceptance of the role of CEO of JEA to serve as a change agent by bringing his extensive private business experience and know-how to JEA and develop innovative ways to improve the utility for the benefit of the community and its ratepayers. He challenged the stagnant conventional thinking that permeated JEA and looked for cost-effective and innovative ways, commonly used in private businesses, to diversify revenues and retain the talented employees of JEA. Throughout this process, JEA engaged well-regarded lawyers, consultants, and financial advisors to craft and vet both the lawfulness and ethics of employing these innovative ideas in a government setting.

“Mr. Zahn is confident that when the jury is presented with all the evidence, he will be vindicated.”

This is a developing story. Action News Jax will have a live report on CBS47 and FOX30 Action News Jax at 5.

Samantha Mathers

Samantha Mathers, Action News Jax

Samantha Mathers is a digital reporter and content creator for Action News Jax.