JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Now that two former JEA executives are awaiting trial after being accused of conspiracy and fraud — in what some call the biggest scheme to defraud taxpayers in Jacksonville’s history — why is one of them being allowed to leave the country?
Aaron Zahn, the former CEO of the city-owned utility, will be permitted to go to the Bahamas next week on a family vacation. That has some wondering why it’s being allowed since both he and former JEA Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher are charged with felonies in a scheme that could have bilked millions from taxpayers.
RELATED: 2 former JEA execs plead not guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud charges
Zahn had nothing to say to News4JAX or other reporters when he left the federal courthouse Tuesday. During the short court proceeding, Zahn and Wannemacher pleaded not guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges in connection to an attempt to sell JEA.
The judge laid out the rules about their release from custody while they wait for the trial that is set for May 2.
Each is now out on a $100,000 bond, but they did not have to pay anything upfront. That’s standard in these types of federal cases. Their travel is restricted to the continental U.S. with that exception for Zahn that some have found surprising.
In court Tuesday, News4JAX learned Zahn had a family vacation planned for the Bahamas next week and the judge will allow him to go.
Usually, in federal court cases, it’s customary that people turn in their passports so they don’t leave the country. Wanamaker turned in his passport to court officials, Zahn did not.
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That decision has prompted heated discussion among News4JAX Insiders.
“Family vacation in the Bahamas? Seriously?” one commenter said.
Another sounded off about a former federal case involving two Jacksonville city council members, Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown, both found guilty of fraud charges in 2019.
“Wonder if Reggie or Katrina Brown would have been allowed to take a vacation out of the country in the midst of 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 permitted 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 were a big-time drug case, that would be something else. He probably wouldn’t get conditions of release. So it’s not unusual for them to be permitted to carry on their life pending the trial proceedings.”
Fallgatter said since the two turned themselves in and had been aware of the two-year federal investigation, they are not considered a flight risk.
The judge did say once Zahn returns from the trip, he must surrender his passport.
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