(CBS/AP) ORLANDO, Fla. - The wife of the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed Trayvon Martin allegedly used money transfers of relatively small amounts to hide the true status of the couple’s finances as they sought his release on bond, authorities allege in court documents.
Shellie Zimmerman, wife to George Zimmerman, was charged Tuesday with perjury, a third-degree felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. She was released on bond herself.
Records show that in the days before an April bond hearing for her husband, Shellie Zimmerman, 25, 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.
Shellie Zimmerman testified at the hearing 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. As a result, George Zimmerman was released on $150,000 bond.
Four days later, Shellie Zimmerman transferred more than $85,500 from her account into her husband’s account, the affidavit said. The affidavit also said jail call records show that George Zimmerman instructed her to “pay off all the bills,” including an American Express and Sam’s Club card.
Prosecutors say the couple actually had then already raised $135,000 in donations from a website George Zimmerman created. They suggested more had been raised since then. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester ordered Zimmerman returned to the Seminole County Jail and revoked his bond June 1. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the teen’s slaying.
A state attorney investigator met with credit union officials and learned 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’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 Tuesday weren’t immediately returned.
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.
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.