ABOVE PHOTO: Shellie Zimmerman
(Photo Credit: Seminole County Sheriff’s Office)
By Kyle Hightower
ORLANDO, Fla. — The wife of Trayvon Martin’s shooter was charged with perjury Tuesday, accused of lying when she told a judge that the couple had limited funds during a hearing that resulted in her husband being released on $150,000 bond.
ABC News reported George Zimmerman is worried about his wife’s safety now that she has been arrested and her mug shot publicized, his lawyer told ABC News.
Zimmerman and his wife have both been in hiding since the neighborhood watch captain shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla.
Shellie Zimmerman, 25, was arrested this week on perjury charges for allegedly lying to the judge at an April 20 bond hearing about being destitute while her husband’s online defense fund had $135,000 in it.
After her arrest, police released her mugshot, marking the first anyone has seen Mrs. Zimmerman who has been in hiding because of death threats against her and her family. Even when she testified at the bond hearing it was done by speakerphone because she wanted to protect her identity.
“Certainly now that she’s been charged with a crime he’s worried about her, and also worried now that she’s out in the public eye,” Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara told ABC News after visiting his client in jail late Tuesday night. The lawyer said there are “legitimate safety concerns.”
Shellie Zimmerman was released on $1,000 bond on the third-degree felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. George Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the teen’s slaying and had been out on bond after the April 20 hearing. However, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester on June 1 revoked the bond and ordered Zimmerman returned to the Seminole County Jail. In a strongly worded ruling, Lester said the Zimmermans lied about how much money they had.
George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara has said the couple was confused and fearful when they misled court officials about how much money they had. A call and email to him on Tuesday weren’t immediately returned.
Records show Shellie Zimmerman in the days before the hearing transferred $74,000 in eight smaller amounts ranging from $7,500 to $9,990, from her husband’s credit union account to hers, according to an arrest affidavit. It also shows that $47,000 was transferred from George Zimmerman’s account to his sister’s in the days before the bond hearing.
Four days after he was released on bond, Shellie Zimmerman transferred more than $85,500 from her account into her husband’s account, the affidavit said. The affidavit also said that jail call records show that George Zimmerman instructed her to “pay off all the bills,” including an American Express and Sam’s Club card.
A state attorney investigator met with credit union officials and learned that she had control of transfers to and from her husband’s account.
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 wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, has maintained since the Feb. 26 killing that he shot Martin in self-defense because the unarmed 17-year-old was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community outside Orlando.
Zimmerman was arrested 44 days later and at the bond hearing, he took the stand and apologized to Martin’s parents.
At the hearing, Shellie Zimmerman testified that the couple, who married in 2007, had limited funds for bail because she was a full-time student and her husband wasn’t working. Prosecutors say they actually had then already raised $135,000 in donations from a website George Zimmerman created. They suggested more had been raised since then.
Shellie Zimmerman was asked about the website at the hearing, but she said she didn’t know how much money had been raised. Lester set the $150,000 bail and Zimmerman was freed a few days later after posting $15,000 in cash — which is typical.
In bringing a motion to have Zimmerman’s bond revoked lead prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda complained “This court was led to believe they didn’t have a single penny. It was misleading and I don’t know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie.”
The judge agreed and ordered Zimmerman returned to jail where he has been since turning himself in on June 3. He didn’t perjure himself, but Lester said he knew his wife was lying.
“Does your client get to sit there like a potted plant and lead the court down the primrose path? That’s the issue,” Lester said in revoking Zimmerman’s bond. “He can’t sit back and obtain the benefit of a lower bond based upon those material falsehoods.”
He has another bond hearing set for June 29.
De la Rionda presented to the judge during the revocation hearing a partial transcript of telephone conversations Zimmerman had with his wife from jail, days before the original bond hearing.
Zimmerman and his wife discussed the amount of money raised from the website, and Zimmerman spoke in code to tell his wife how to make fund transfers, according to the transcript. The code referred to amounts of “$15” in place of “$150,000.”
In the arrest affidavit, they also spoke about small amounts when really, prosecutors said, they were referring in code to thousands of dollars that Shellie Zimmerman withdrew from her account to pay the bail bondsman.