Federal subpoena seeks JEA documents
Subpoena time for JEA.

JEA (6)
The sale is moot, but the investigation continues.

A federal grand jury issued this week a sweeping subpoena seeking records from the aborted push to sell Jacksonville’s public utility.

The subpoena targets texts, emails, and other archival information, including communications between the office of Mayor Lenny Curry and the “senior leadership team” of JEA, according to the Florida Times-Union and multiple sources.

Curry, an on-and-off-again proponent of “recapitalizing” the utility over the years, faced political headwinds in the months ahead of the coronavirus crisis, as the sale push proved politically unviable.

The subpoenas target past and present members of the utility’s brain trust including former CEO Aaron Zahn, current CEO Melissa Dykes, Chief Administrative Officer Herschel Vinyard and former CFO Ryan Wannamacher, who was dismissed via a terse email.

The investigation was moved to a federal venue at the discretion of State Attorney Melissa Nelson who shared political consultants with Curry through her successful 2016 campaign for office.

“After thorough review, the State Attorney’s Office has determined that the appropriate venue to continue this investigation is the federal justice system. We have referred our investigation to our federal partners, who will take the lead moving forward and have the full support of this office,” Nelson said in January.

The grand jury investigation was music to the ears of many locals. Members of the Jacksonville City Council and the Jacksonville Civic Council had called for a grand jury investigation ahead of Nelson’s own inquiry.

They and others were irked by a “performance pay” plan that would have allowed executives to buy stock that could exponentially increase in value if the contemplated sale had gone through.

The scheme allowing the Senior Leadership Team to buy shares even as they had proprietary knowledge of the sale process rankled even Curry loyalists on the Council.

One called the devisement, which could have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of purloined public profit, “legal theft.”

Curry hit the brakes in December on a bid process to sell the utility after unprecedented pressure from the City Council, the Civic Council, and other stakeholders.

Curry disclaimed responsibility for the sale push, stressing at various points the independence of the board members, and pushing for City Council to evaluate bids, even as phone records show he and Zahn were in regular communication at key points in the sale timeline.

However, that wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding.

The JEA Board, a collection of Curry loyalists, summarily voted on Christmas Eve to stop the so-called “invitation to negotiate” process, one that elicited interest globally.

While the board may be finished with the sale push, a moot point in a collapsed economy, the feds clearly are not done.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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