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Citing ‘difficult’ issues, DOJ asks for delay in sentencing of ex-JEA CEO Aaron Zahn

Federal prosecutors this week asked U.S. District Judge Brian Davis to postpone the sentencing hearing for ex-JEA CEO Aaron Zahn until the end of July because of “extensive and difficult legal issues” that could significantly impact the type of sentence the former executive faces of utilities will face. his conviction in March for conspiracy and wire fraud.

One of these issues, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva revealed in a court filing, concerns how “intended loss” will be incorporated into Zahn’s sentence. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Zahn and ex-JEA CFO Ryan Wannemacher had conspired to essentially skim tens of millions from the sale of the city utility to a private energy company. Ultimately, the two were unsuccessful in that attempt, and Wannemacher was acquitted by a separate jury of both the conspiracy and fraud charges, for which Zahn is now being punished.

Federal sentencing guidelines allow “intended loss,” or “what the loss would have been if the suspect had not been caught,” to be taken into account when calculating a sentence. And since that amount is theoretically so high in Zahn’s case — some estimates put the total potential payouts from Zahn’s conspiracy at as much as $600 million — it could have a significant impact on Davis’ sentencing decision.

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But appellate courts are divided over how to interpret some federal sentencing guidelines, including the concept of intended loss. Duva’s lawsuit pointed to “recent developments” on that topic as an underlying complexity in preparing a pre-sentencing report on Zahn.

At this stage of the process, a federal probation officer has begun preparing that pre-sentencing report, a comprehensive document that includes personal meetings with the defendant at his home, often in the presence of his family, to help determine his personal situation . history, ties to the community and their willingness to accept responsibility for their behavior – all factors that can influence the recommended sentence. These reports are not made public, but play a major role in helping the judge determine a sentence and influencing where a suspect is sent to serve his prison sentence.

For Zahn, preparing the pre-sentencing report “is particularly intimidating in this case,” Duva wrote.

“The trial and trial of this case involved complex legal and factual issues. The government and defense litigated this case for approximately two years before it was tried before two juries,” Duva wrote.

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“The sentencing hearing will also involve extensive and difficult legal issues for the Court to decide.”

The conspiracy and wire fraud convictions Zahn faces carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, but those maximums are almost never handed down and Davis will likely have wide latitude in deciding Zahn’s fate.

The sentencing hearing was originally scheduled for June 18, but Duva’s request to the judge, which Zahn’s attorneys agreed to, would move the hearing to dates between July 24 and 30.

While the defense and prosecution agree on the need to delay the hearing, they are also sparring over Zahn’s request to have his convictions expunged or be granted a new trial. Zahn’s attorneys told Davis there were a series of problems with the trial, including misconduct by Duva when he gave the jury his own commentary on the case during closing arguments. Those comments, including a claim that Zahn had tried to “flee” the city, were “inappropriate appeals to emotion,” Zahn’s lawyers argued.

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“Zahn makes sweeping allegations of prosecutorial misconduct…,” Duva wrote in response this month. “Zahn did indeed try to rob the city, the entity he was convicted of conspiring to steal from. That was a correct argument.’

Zahn’s motion also includes a list of grievances that go beyond the trial and touch on the underlying case against him, including some arguments that Davis has already rejected. There is no timeline for Davis to rule on that motion.

Nate Monroe is a Metro columnist whose work appears regularly every Thursday and Sunday. Follow him on Twitter @NateMonroeTU.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Federal prosecutor asks for delay in sentencing of ex-JEA CEO Aaron Zahn

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