Indictments of two top JEA executives were not unexpected, and leave open the question: who else?
It all harkens back to the effort by Mayor Lenny Curry to sell the city’s utility. That effort was almost universally opposed.
But Curry got his friend Aaron Zahn installed as CEO of the utility company, and clearly Zahn’s mission was to ramrod the sale.
Curry apparently planned to use the proceeds for his big spending plans, which he subsequently accomplished by doubling the gas tax.
Someone, to sweeten the process for JEA employees, created a lucrative bonus plan to cash in big on the anticipated sale.
It would have provided huge cash payouts for management.
Zahn and former JEA Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher are accused of conspiring to steal and obtain by fraud funds from the city of Jacksonville that would have been generated from the sale of the JEA
U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg said Zahn and Wannemacher worked together to devise a 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. If convicted on all counts, Zahn and Wannemacher face up to 25 years in federal prison.
After the city auditor disclosed the true nature of the plan, the JEA Board stopped the ITN process on Dec. 24, 2019.
Zahn was fired and the entire board was replaced as a result of the fiasco.
During the bid process, Zahn and Wannemacher worked together to devise the PUP formula using JEA’s financial statements and net position to ensure that they would receive millions of dollars when JEA was sold. The indictment alleges that Zahn and Wannemacher made material misrepresentations about and otherwise hid the true nature of the PUP from the JEA Board, members of the Jacksonville City Council, other JEA executives, and the public. During the ITN, Zahn crafted minimum requirements for the sale of JEA that would enhance the sale and, at the same time, ensure that the PUP bonus plan would pay out millions of dollars to holders of PUP units, the overwhelming majority of which would have been available to Zahn, Wannemacher, and certain others, had JEA been sold, the indictment alleges.
There was no indication that Handberg’s office and the FBI are finished, so Eye on Jacksonville will be watching to see if further accusations are coming.
Curry, who started the process, had no comment other than to say he would continue to cooperate with the official inquiries.