Thursday, June 14, 2012

The couple that schemes together

OF ALL the things George Michael Zimmerman had going for him up until recently, the most valuable was his credibility. The Florida man arrested for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in February lost much of that on June 1, when the judge in the case sent Zimmerman back to jail, revoking his bond on the grounds that Zimmerman lied about his financial circumstances at his bond hearing in April.

The latest news in the Zimmerman case came on Tuesday, with the arrest of Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, on perjury charges after prosecutors claimed she lied about their financial status in order to get a lower bond for hubby George.

“The prosecutor sent a strong message that you have to tell the truth in court because it is the whole basis of the American legal system,” said Benjamin Crump, the Trayvon Martin family attorney, in a statement. “Credibility of every witness is always at the crux of every legal case.”

The prosecution’s eight-page motion to revoke bond is a stunning document, one that lays out evidence of extra passports, a relative mountain of cash and a pattern of jailhouse deception as brazen as it was mind-bogglingly inept.

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In the motion to revoke, prosecutors referred to recorded and time-stamped phone conversations between Zimmerman and his wife of five years, Shellie Nicole Zimmerman.

The prosecution said George Zimmerman was “directing the show” from behind bars. A random look at some of the court’s bond revocation reveals specific examples of the Zimmermans enigmatically discussing their finances, not so much speaking in code as talking about money in a numerical system other than base 10.

According to the prosecution transcript of jail recordings between George and Shellie Zimmerman. In one call on April 15, Zimmerman told his wife, “You are going to take out $10, and keep it with you in cash. Less then 10.”

His wife responded, “Like $9.”

Zimmerman: Say about $10. I’m wondering, you have more than $10, right?
Shellie Zimmerman: Not with me.
George Zimmerman: You don’t have access to more than $10 in your account?
Shellie Zimmerman: I do.

On April 16, on another conversation, Zimmerman asked his wife: "In my account, do I have at least $100?"

Shellie Zimmerman: No
George Zimmerman: How close am I?
Shellie Zimmerman: $8. $8.60.
George Zimmerman: Really? So total, everything, how much are we looking at?
Shellie Zimmerman: Like $155.

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JUDGE KENNETH R. Lester of Seminole County Circuit Court, having read enough of the Zimmermans’ inventive decimal-place gymnastics, revoked George Zimmerman’s $150,000 bond package and ordered him to surrender to authorities within 48 hours. Zimmerman was frog-marched back into the Seminole County Jail about six weeks after his last visit. Given what he did to get back in there, Zimmerman may be there for a while.

This little fiasco cuts, like nothing else could, into Zimmerman’s credibility, which wasn’t exactly outfitted with hurricane shutters to begin with.

Now, whenever a jury is empaneled in this tragic case, whenever the prosecution makes its case before that jury, those citizens will have to contend with a suspicion Zimmerman has created for them: If he’d lie about the state of his finances in the face of the judge, what else could he telling that’s less than the truth? His wife's arrest earlier this week won't win the defense any points, either.

“Well the zim sure messed this up,” said TwoWayZone on The Daily Beast. “I think the prosecutor and judge are being prudent. Omitting a fact that you have a second passport might be more serious than not knowing how much money you have, but if I had 100K I would know.”

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It was probably way more than that. ABC News, quoting another news source, reported that when George Zimmerman went back to jail, he had about $193,000 in a defense fund mounted online and funded with PayPal donations from supporters. ABC News reported that about $20,000 had been used for living expenses, hotels and security. The network reported that since he was returned to custody, “Zimmerman has seen an increase in contributions upwards of $1,000 a day.”

That initiative may not do the Zimmermans any good. PayPal, a global e-commerce concern that facilitates transactions of money for private individuals, has an “Acceptable Use Policy,” analogous to the Terms of Service that are common to every viable commercial online entity.

That policy, detailed in Section 2(e) under Prohibited Activities, states that PayPal users are barred from “transactions involving … items that promote hate, violence, racial intolerance, or the financial exploitation of a crime.”

How elastic PayPal’s attorneys choose to be about interpreting what counts as “financial exploitation of a crime” is anyone’s guess; there hasn’t been much reported on the company’s position on this case one way or another.

There’s more to be unraveled for sure when George Zimmerman gets a second bond hearing in Sanford, Fla., on June 29. Shellie (who bonded out shortly after her arrest) is scheduled to appear at a hearing on her own charges on July 31. The depth of their pockets pales in significance with the depth of trouble they’re in.

Image credits: George and Shellie Zimmerman: Seminole County Sheriff's Office booking photos. Zimmerman returned to custody: ABC News. PayPal logo: © 1999-2012 PayPal.

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