JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA — The Duval County Republican Party passed a resolution on Tuesday calling on Governor Ron DeSantis to petition the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury investigation into the 2019 Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) scandal. A failed attempt to sell Northeast Florida’s highly lucrative public utility company has been under federal investigation since January 2020.
Former Duval GOP Chair Robin Lumb, who served as policy director for the City of Jacksonville from 2015 until this summer and city councilman from 2011–2015, submitted the resolution in an email to current GOP Chair Rep. Dean Black on Sunday. Black recommended the resolution to committee members on Tuesday and received unanimous approval from the executive committee’s nearly 500 members.
“ENDING INSTITUTIONAL CORRUPTION”
“With Jacksonville’s municipal elections just around the corner, we think now is the right time for the Duval County Republican Executive Committee to take an official stand on advocating for a statewide grand jury investigation into the JEA scandal,” Lumb wrote in an email to Black. “It will show our voters that Republicans are serious about ending the institutional corruption and self-dealing that’s plagued local government in recent years.”
Lumb added that former state and federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials with specific knowledge of the investigation indicated that it has “probably run its course.” The resolution stated that “important details surrounding the plan to sell JEA have been concealed from the public and continue to remain shrouded in mystery.”
Lumb also pointed out that, unlike federal grand juries, a statewide grand jury can investigate violations of Florida law that are beyond the reach of federal prosecutors and “issue reports that document acts of malfeasance and wrongdoing that fall short of actual criminal conduct.”
The resolution added: “The statewide grand jury should not only investigate potential violations of Florida law but that it should also report on the actions of those public officials, private individuals, and business entities who intentionally misled the citizens of Duval County regarding the proposed sale of JEA, who concealed material facts regarding the proposed sale, or who attempted to improperly influence the valuation process and the Invitation to Negotiate.”
“ONE OF THE GREATEST SCHEMES IN THE COUNTRY”
JEA, the largest utility provider in the state of Florida and one of the largest nationwide, boasts an annual revenue of $1.3 billion. Folio Weekly’s feature from November 2021 alleged that the push to sell JEA was driven by self-interested motives from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, the mayor’s right-hand-man Brian Hughes and powerful political consultant Tim Baker. Curry has denied those allegations.
The Jacksonville City Council’s 138-page investigative report from January 2021 found “evidence of coordination” between the Curry administration and Florida Power and Light (FPL) during the failed acquisition. Baker, who also works with current mayoral candidate Daniel Davis, served as a consultant for FPL while Curry was pushing for the sale.
Last March, a federal grand jury indicted JEA’s former CEO Aaron Zahn – whom Curry originally appointed to the JEA board – and former CFO Ryan Wannemacher, charging them with conspiracy and wire fraud.
In a statement released after the indictments, JEA said: “Since 2020, several measures have been put in place under new leadership to ensure transparency at JEA and that the types of actions that caused the investigation in the first place won’t be repeated.”
“This appears to be the greatest scheme to defraud the taxpayers in the history of Jacksonville,” Rick Mullaney of Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute told News4Jax last year. “In fact, I will go further, it’s one of the greatest schemes in the country.”