George Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, is facing perjury charges of lying under oath about money her husband raised online, but bank records and recorded jailhouse phone calls released Monday show it was George Zimmerman who called the shots behind an elaborate, if sloppy, scheme to hide money.
Zimmerman’s calls from jail to his wife show that in the days before his April 20 bond hearing, he went to exhaustive lengths to give her instructions on changing passwords so she could move money out of his accounts. He advised her to always transfer less than $10,000 — an apparent quest to not raise red flags — and recruited his sister and another person to help.
The records also show that the second-degree murder charge was a big money-maker for Zimmerman: On the day of his arrest, contributions surpassed a $75,000 in a single day. He quickly paid off about $1,800 in bills and then after his release from jail spent nearly $5,000 in one day paying off Sam’s Club, Target and other credit cards, bank records show.
“Ah man, that feels good,” he said to his wife in a recorded phone call the day after his arrest. “That there are people in America that care.”
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His wife told him so many contributions arrived to his online PayPal site on the day of his arrest that the site kept crashing.
“People were just trying to give you, you know, words of support and kindness,” Shellie Zimmerman said.
“Good. Wow, that is awesome,” he said.
Later he told her: “I’m so happy to know that you’re gonna be okay.”
His wife assured him, “After this is all over, you’re gonna be able to just, have a great life.”
Zimmerman faces a second-degree murder charge for the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Miami Gardens teenager. Zimmerman claims that the teen punched him in an unprovoked attack. His nose broken and head slightly wounded, Zimmerman shot Trayvon once in the chest as the two wrestled on the grass.
For some, the case quickly became a symbol of the perils of racial profiling. For others, it epitomized the media’s rush to judgment. After six weeks of controversy, Zimmerman was arrested by a specially appointed prosecutor, and became a hero to gun-rights advocates nationwide.
His arrest came about three days after he set up a website that sought donations. Records show that sympathizers offered such an outpouring of support that his credit union account, which had a $5 balance on April 1, swelled 27 days later to $128,898. The balance ballooned even after the couple paid off credit cards and frantically transferred funds out of the account.
The finances are critical, because at his bond hearing, Zimmerman and his family presented themselves as broke. Based on his lack of money and solid record cooperating with police, he was deemed a low flight risk and granted $150,000 bond.
His defense lawyer, Mark O’Mara, later revealed that Zimmerman actually was sitting on a small fortune. Zimmerman ultimately gave the $122,000 balance to his defense attorney to create a trust in his name.
But prosecutors probed the matter deeper, combing through PayPal and bank records and listening in on 151 phone calls to find out who controlled the website and whether Zimmerman was aware of how much had poured in.
O’Mara has since acknowledged that his client misled the court out of “fear and mistrust.” Bond was revoked, and another bond hearing will be held June 29.
“It’s all about George Zimmerman’s credibility,” said Benjamin Crump, a Tallahassee attorney Trayvon’s parents hired to help push for criminal charges. “It is George Zimmerman who conspires and coaches others to execute a scheme to hide money and a passport ultimately deceiving the court. He is the one telling everybody what to do.”
On the jail phone calls, Zimmerman can be heard giving his wife repeated step-by-step instructions on changing the password and security questions to his online donations account. They talk in simple code, referring to PayPal as “Peter Pan.” They speak in adoring tones and use pet names like “boo” and “cutie.”
Over and over again, Zimmerman tells his wife how proud he is that she accomplished the password change and transfers.
“You’re such an amazing role model to people, honey,” Shellie said to him.
He repeatedly reminded Shellie to use a password she could remember, to write it down several places and to set her phone alarm to remind her daily to call a friend helping administer the account. He told her how much should be moved how many times a day, and how much should be liquidated and left in a safe deposit box.
A friend dubbed “Ken” transferred funds from PayPal to Zimmerman’s account, according to the calls. From there, Shellie Zimmerman would move the money to her bank and then withdraw large amounts of cash, the calls and records show.
In one call, Zimmerman’s sister Grace — code named “Susie”— helps Shellie understand the instructions.
“Don’t rely on her to write it down,” Zimmerman said to Grace, referring to Shellie. “She’ll forget.”
Both women repeat instructions over and over again. Shellie, 25, talks excitedly about paying bills.
Shellie Zimmerman was arrested last week on a felony charge of lying under oath during her husband’s bond hearing. She faces the possibility of five years in prison.
Zimmerman’s defense attorney said he filed a motion in court Monday objecting to the planned release of 145 other jail phone calls that are unrelated to Zimmerman’s bond.
“We are compiling a list of other potentially relevant phone calls and we will present them when appropriate,” O’Mara wrote on his website.
His motion to hold off on the 145 other calls will be discussed at the hearing next week.
On the tapes Zimmerman repeatedly discussed his shower schedule, and was very concerned about security. He asked his wife to purchase three bulletproof vests — one for him, one for her and another for O’Mara.
They referred several times to advice offered by a “safety counsel,” apparently a consultant advising them on security matters.
At one point they discussed plans for how to elude the media upon release from jail if he was granted bond. Zimmerman asked his wife to rent two cars and a hotel room with an attached garage.
She suggested he duck in the backseat to hide from reporters. In a thinly veiled reference to the controversial garment worn by Trayvon, Zimmerman chuckled and said: “Well, I have my hoodie.”