Trayvon Martin was born 18 years ago this month and killed by George Zimmerman a year ago today. His killing unleashed massive outrage and countless protests, #hashtags and Facebook profile pics of people in hoodies demanding that Zimmerman be arrested, charged and not allowed to "stand his ground." But a year later, most of the hashtags are gone and the hoodied profile pics have fallen to the back of Facebook photo albums. Meanwhile, a mother and father are still left to mourn their son and the man finally arrested for his murder is back out on bail. But he shouldn't be. And I don't understand why people aren't making a bigger deal out of it.
Ever since journalist Frances Robles published a series of audiotaped jailhouse conversations between George Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, in the Miami Herald eight months ago, one question keeps coming up for me: why haven't the Feds every charged the Zimmermans with financial crimes? In the tapes and transcripts published in the Herald, an April 15, 2012 conversation seems to clearly implicate the couple in a somewhat serious money laundering-esque offense as they figure out what to do with the over $130,000 that supporters donated to Zimmerman's Paypal account after he shot Trayvon Martin. Besides ensuring her husband that the money would grant him "a great life." The Zimmermans also had the following exchange.
George Zimmerman: "...cause you're gonna take out $10 and put
it, and keep it with you, in cash right?So that you...less that $10"
Shellie Z: "Well, yeah
George Z.: "Right. Um. Let's
just say $10.I'm wondering, you
have more than $10 right?"
That's what I'm saying. So if you have more than $10 then you can, maybe that
same day, put 10 in hers and she can take the 10 out..."
The $10 that George Zimmerman refers to in the conversation is
poorly concealed jail-speak for $10,000.The couple's back and forth about depositing the money made it very
clear that they preferred to deposit $9,000 into the bank instead of $10,000.And that is exactly what Shellie Zimmerman
did, making eight deposits ranging from $7500
to $9,990 each between her husband's credit union and her account.Why would she do that?According to the Bank Secrecy Act, depositing
$10,000 into a domestic bank forces that bank to file a Currency Transaction
Report to the IRS about the transaction, something you wouldn't want to do if
you were trying to keep that information from someone, say... a criminal court
judge. In fact during George Zimmerman's initial bond hearing, he told the
judge he was broke, earning him a low bail (which was later revoked and
reinstated for a higher amount) and eventually earning his wife a
But beyond committing perjury, intentionally depositing less
than $10,000 in the bank so that no Currency Transaction Report would be
generated is a crime called "structuring,"
and it can land you in federal prison for five years.Or as former federal prosecutor Jeffrey
the associated press:
"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,"
This was all pointed out in several articles at the time (including
Robles' piece) and was even the subject of a Change.org petition. But despite a
FBI investigation into the Trayvon Martin case and the appointment of a
"special" state prosecutor, no financial or "structuring" charge has been filed
by any prosecutor (state or federal) against either Zimmerman.
Some may believe that a "structuring" charge matters less
than other underlying issues surrounding
Trayvon Martin's murder.But the
financial crimes charges matter precisely because Trayvon Martin's murder was
never just about whether or not George Zimmerman was racist or if he was killed
Your Ground" laws. It was about the myriad ways in which the justice system
works differently for different people.
The fact is, overcharging
people in the criminal justice system, often for things that they didn't
do, happens way more than anyone wants to admit.Florida is no exception.A few weeks ago, the
Orlando Sentinel highlighted cases of children being charged criminally for
things like "talking back" that "once warranted a trip to the
principal's office." For grown-ups around the country, it is not unusual
for a person caught possessing drugs to be charged with selling
them or for a person to be charged with resisting arrest even when there
was no underlying reason for them to be arrested in the first place.
In the case of George Zimmerman and his wife, we have actual
audiotapes that millions of people have listened to indicating that improper
cash transactions might have taken place.And yet, not a charge has been filed for a crime many of us believe we
heard being committed with our own ears.
As a former community organizer that has worked with plenty
of people caught up in the criminal justice system, I rarely see prison as a
solution to society's problems.I also
do not believe that a structuring conviction or a murder conviction will ever
bring Trayvon Martin back to his parents.But I have also never seen a man facing a murder rap be able to raise
thousands of dollars because of that murder rap and yet be treated with kid
gloves for the way he managed those thousands of dollars.
Regardless of what happens with George Zimmerman's murder
case, if he and his wife are never charged with financial crimes, then the this
whole saga truly does prove that the justice system works differently for
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