Saturday, January 20, 2018

George Zimmerman's wife charged with perjury

ORLANDO — George Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, was arrested Tuesday after being charged with one count of perjury for allegedly lying under oath at his bail hearing about whether the couple had access to any money.

The charge is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. She quickly posted $1,000 bail and was released.

George Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the slaying of teenager Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26. At George Zimmerman's April 20 bail hearing, Shellie Zimmerman was asked whether the couple had any money. "Uhmm, not, not that I'm aware of," she responded.

But prosecutors say bank records show Shellie Zimmerman, 25, had stashed cash in a safe deposit box and transferred nearly $75,000 from her husband's bank account into hers. When her husband was granted bail and released from jail, the money was returned to George Zimmerman's account, according to a probable-cause affidavit prosecutors filed.

Shellie Zimmerman was charged with committing perjury during an official proceeding.

"Prosecutors sent a strong message that you have to tell the truth in court, because it is the whole basis of the judicial system," said lawyer Benjamin Crump, who spent weeks pushing for George Zimmerman's arrest in the killing of Martin, 17. "The credibility of each witness is always at the crux of every legal case," added Crump, who represents Martin's parents.

George Zimmerman, 28, was not charged with perjury because he was never asked about money while under oath.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, has maintained since the killing that he shot Martin in self-defense because the unarmed teenager was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community.

Shortly after Zimmerman's arrest in April, his attorney requested a bail hearing to determine whether he could be released pending trial. His family testified under oath by phone.

At the hearing, defense attorney Mark O'Mara and prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda asked Shellie Zimmerman whether the couple had any funds. Shellie Zimmerman said the defense attorney had explained to her that he planned to apply for state financial aid reserved for the indigent who cannot pay their court costs.

Asked by de la Rionda how much money had been raised by a website George Zimmerman set up while he was in hiding, Shellie Zimmerman said she did not know. To pay the bail, she said, the family planned to "pull together members of the family to scrape up anything that we possibly can."

Days after George Zimmerman's release on $150,000 bail, O'Mara revealed to the court that the website's PayPal account had amassed $204,000. O'Mara claimed that day that his client hadn't mentioned it at the bail hearing because Zimmerman did not know how much money was available to him at the time.

O'Mara has since said his client lied because of "fear, mistrust and confusion."

At first the judge set the bail issue aside while prosecutors investigated the matter. At an unrelated court hearing June 1, the prosecutor stunned the court by filing a motion to revoke Zimmerman's bail.

De la Rionda said jailhouse phone calls between Zimmerman and his wife — recorded before the April 20 bail hearing — showed she knew the PayPal account already had raised more than $100,000. According to the affidavit, the two engaged in a plot to hide the money.

From April 16 to 19, Shellie Zimmerman transferred $74,400 from George Zimmerman's account to her own in small chunks: She transferred just under $10,000 six times and $7,500 twice.

On April 16, she twice withdrew $9,000 cash from her own account and later discussed with her husband taking what she "put in the box."

George Zimmerman felt safer if his wife used gift cards instead of cash and asked her to pay off their American Express and Sam's Club cards, according to prosecutors.

On April 16 and 17, an additional $47,000 was transferred from Zimmerman's account to his sister's bank account.

On April 24, once Zimmerman was free, the couple returned $85,000 to his account.

When Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester learned of the scheme this month, he revoked Zimmerman's bail. Another bail hearing is scheduled for June 29.

George Zimmerman "does not properly respect the law or the integrity of the judicial process," Lester wrote.

Jeffrey Neiman, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said cash transactions in excess of $10,000 usually trigger a reporting requirement by the bank to multiple government agencies — including the IRS.

"If Mrs. Zimmerman intentionally structured the financial transactions in a manner to keep the offense under $10,000, not only may she have committed perjury in the state case, but she also may have run afoul of several federal statutes and could face serious federal criminal charges," Neiman told the Associated Press.

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