Former JEA CEO Zahn faces 25 years in prison for fraud, but first a family trip to the Bahamas
JACKSONVILLE, Florida. — Now that two former JEA executives await trial after being charged with conspiracy and fraud — in what some are calling the biggest taxpayer-scam scheme in Jacksonville history — why would any of them is he allowed to leave the country?
Aaron Zahn, the former CEO of the municipal utility, will be allowed to travel to the Bahamas next week for a family vacation. This has some wondering why this is allowed since he and former JEA CFO Ryan Wannemacher are charged with crimes in a scheme that could have defrauded taxpayers millions.
RELATED: 2 former JEA leaders plead not guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud charges
Zahn had nothing to say to News4JAX or other reporters when he left the federal courthouse on Tuesday. During the short court proceedings, Zahn and Wannemacher pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and conspiracy in connection with an attempted sale of JEA.
The judge set out the rules regarding their release pending trial scheduled for May 2.
Each is now on a $100,000 bond, but they didn’t have to pay anything up front. This is standard in these types of federal cases. Their travel is limited to the continental United States with the exception of Zahn which some have found surprising.
In court on Tuesday, News4JAX heard that Zahn had planned a family vacation to the Bahamas next week and the judge would allow him to leave.
Usually, in cases before federal courts, it is customary for people to surrender their passports in order not to leave the country. Wanamaker returned his passport to court officials, Zahn did not.
RELATED: Federal subpoena issued for records related to attempted sale of JEA | 22 subpoenas issued in City Council investigation into JEA | A councilman calls the attempted sale of JEA a ‘scam’ based on the ‘biggest lie’ in the city’s history | Why a Braves game attended by Mayor Curry, former JEA CEO and City Council President raises questions | JEA removes CEO Aaron Zahn | After the end of the sale, what is next for JEA?
The move sparked heated discussions among News4JAX insiders.
“A family vacation in the Bahamas? Seriously?” said one commenter.
Another pointed to an old federal case involving two Jacksonville City Council members, Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown, both convicted of fraud charges in 2019.
“I wonder if Reggie or Katrina Brown would have been allowed to vacation out of the country amid their indictments???? HUMMMMM. White privilege matters!!!” they said.
But according to attorney Curtis Fallgatter, who is also a former federal prosecutor, allowing this type of travel is sometimes allowed in a case involving financial crimes or what some call “white-collar crime.”
“No, not unusual for a white-collar case,” Fallgatter said. “If it was a big drug deal, it would be something else. He probably wouldn’t get any release conditions. It is therefore not uncommon for them to be allowed to continue with their lives while awaiting trial.
Fallgatter said since the two turned themselves in and were aware of the two-year federal investigation, they are not considered a flight risk.
The judge said that once Zahn returned from the trip, he had to surrender his passport.
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