MIAMI - In the height of the national outrage over the shooting of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman hid out for over a month in nearby Lake Mary at the home of a federal law-enforcement agent - a former Seminole County Sheriff deputy who was pressured to quit after he was duped by a con artist and violated department policy.
He was the friend who taught Zimmerman how to shoot, and whose wife presided over Zimmerman's wedding. As lesser acquaintances granted television interview after television interview, Mark Osterman never showed his face even as he offered shelter to a friend in need who at one point was one of the most controversial people in America.
In the summary of the friend's interview with the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released Thursday by the Duval County state attorney, the name and occupation is blacked out. But one document in the 300 pages identifies him as a U.S. air marshal, and the interview he gave provides enough detail about the relationship to confirm his identity.
He told authorities that his wife presided over Zimmerman's wedding. Zimmerman's wedding certificate lists Sondra Osterman as the person who presided over the ceremony. Sondra Osterman's Facebook profile shows she's married to Mark, who says he travels for a living and works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Among his Facebook likes: "Support George Zimmerman."
Reached Friday morning by The Miami Herald, he declined to be interviewed. "No thanks," he said, before hanging up.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security could not immediately confirm his employment.
Osterman, 44, met Zimmerman around 2006, through his wife, Sondra, who worked with Zimmerman at a mortgage-services company. Zimmerman was a loan originator; Sondra Osterman a loan processor. They later worked together at a different company, Digital Risk.
In his interview with the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Mark Osterman said he visited Zimmerman's house some 50 times. The two men went shooting together about once a month, often to Gander Mountain shooting range, he said.
"He described Zimmerman as a person of strong character, but not very street wise," the report states. "He has never known Zimmerman to be in a fist fight. Zimmerman stays in casual contact with a lot of people, but is not known to have any other close friends."
Osterman described Zimmerman as frugal and organized. Osterman hosted a graduation party for Zimmerman when he completed his associate's degree at Seminole State College. The report makes note that Osterman "did not see the diploma."
Zimmerman was actually just a course or two shy from graduating, and was expelled from the school when the shooting scandal exploded.
Osterman said Zimmerman doesn't do drugs or have racist friends.
The record shows Osterman went to the crime scene the night Trayvon was killed, and also accompanied Zimmerman to his police interrogations. He was present for Zimmerman's video walk-through of the shooting scene with police, and went to Zimmerman's third interview with Sanford Det. Chris Serino.
"During his conversations with Zimmerman, Zimmerman never asked. what not to say during his interviews with the police," the interview summary said. Osterman "stated Zimmerman did not understand the process and his only advice to Zimmerman was to tell the truth."
Osterman told the agents that he is a former Seminole County Sheriff's Deputy who was assigned for six years as a school resource officer at Milwee Middle School.
In 1998, Osterman lost his job when he and another colleague were fooled by conman Juan Diaz, who told the two cops that he was a second baseman for the New York Yankees and needed bodyguards. Diaz drove an expensive sports car, went to strip clubs and flashed money around - with the two officers in tow.
But Diaz was later revealed to be a fraud, and was arrested for writing a phony check for a $38,000 Ford Expedition he bought, The Orlando Sentinel reported at the time. Because the two officers never got permission to work an off-duty security detail, a panel recommended they be fired.
(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
"The guy was very wealthy. He had a hundred-thousand-dollar sports car. I had no reason not to believe that he wasn't who he said he was," The Orlando Sentinel quoted Osterman as saying at time, from transcripts of his hearing. "I started to realize that this guy wasn't all that he said he was. I started going to baseball card shops. I really know nothing about baseball. I'm not a big baseball fan, but no one knew who a Juan Diaz was."
Osterman grew suspicious when he caught Diaz in little lies and when Diaz often didn't have money to pick up tabs.
"He lied about everything," Osterman said at the hearing.
According to the Sentinel, the officers figured out the check for the Ford was worthless but instead of reporting the car stolen, they hit the dealer up for a friend to get a finder's fee for the return of the vehicle.
Osterman, a former Army veteran, eventually resigned.
An online police database shows he later went to the Volusia County Beach Patrol. His Facebook profile shows he has worked for the Department of Homeland Security since 2001.
On Facebook, Osterman describes his job as "lots of shooting and traveling." He graduated from Daytona Beach Community College in 1992, according to his Facebook profile. His wife expressed public Facebook support for former Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, who was fired in his role in the shooting investigation.
Trayvon's family lawyer, Natalie Jackson, raised a question Thursday whether Lee and the air marshal were friends. The family's lawyers have questioned whether some law enforcement insider had influenced Lee's decision to not arrest Zimmerman.
Lee spent 30 years at the Seminole County Sheriff's department, and trained many deputies at the academy.
Zimmerman shot Trayvon, an unarmed Miami Gardens teenager, and told police the youth attacked him. In the days after the shooting, Lee said the evidence supported Zimmerman's claims of self defense, but the outcry that ensued cost Lee his job. The investigation was yanked from his department, and the FDLE and FBI took over the case.
Six weeks after the Feb. 26 killing, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.
On April 26, agents paid Osterman a visit.
The FBI and FDLE record shows the agents asked Osterman whether he knew whether Zimmerman had researched Angela Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to investigate him. Osterman said he did not know.
Osterman detailed Zimmerman's account of the attack he said he endured from Trayvon that led to the shooting, and offered glimpses of his friend's personal life. He told authorities that Zimmerman's mother was strict and hit him "all the time." Zimmerman's father did not stick up for the kids when the mother abused them, and the family had been estranged just prior to the shooting, he said.
In Zimmerman's family, he is closest to his sister, Osterman said.
After the shooting Zimmerman fled his home, after getting death threats and organizations like the New Black Panther Party put a bounty on his head.
As tempers flared nationwide, Zimmerman hid at Osterman's home for as long as six weeks, according to Osterman's interview with the FBI and the FDLE.
"Zimmerman is frustrated with the new Black Panther party and is very scared of them," the FBI-FDLE report said. "Zimmerman is very concerned with all the negative reaction from the press and others and wants more evidence released to show what really happened."
)2012 The Miami Herald
Visit The Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services