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February 02, 2017 10:00 PM

The Zimmer Experience

Sioux Falls, SD

Just last week, KELOLAND News showed you the beginning of an investigation we've been working on for the last month. 

George and Jennifer Zimmer and their seven children were Andy Gibson's tenants on South Euclid Avenue in Sioux Falls.  He evicted them because he says they stopped paying rent, and they left an incredible mess and thousands of dollars in damage behind. 

“They actually hit things and shattered things.  This thermostat is broken. That window behind me is shattered," Gibson said.

Gibson estimates he has tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the home.  

Only Gibson is far from alone.  The Zimmers leave a trail of destruction everywhere they go. 

There's an entire website called the Zimmer Experience, where landlords in South Dakota and Florida have documented their nightmare with the Zimmer family of nine.  A Florida landlord who sent along pictures of her property after she had them evicted.  

The Zimmer Experience begins with damaged property, but it certainly doesn't end there. 

“I mean, it was absolutely disgusting,” former Zimmer landlord Mary Ratchford said.

From rental home to rental home, the Zimmers leave behind tens of thousands of dollars in property destruction everywhere they go.

“Got our house back and had over $10,000 in damage," former Zimmer landlord Matt Bocan said.

From damage to dog and cat feces and urine everywhere, the landlords find their homes in complete disrepair.

“Obviously, it's some sort of pipe that they smoke whatever out of," Gibson said.

"Amazing to me that they continue to get away with this!" Ratchford said.

Ratchford rented a home on Royal Court in west Sioux Falls to the Zimmers from 2010 to 2012. After they stopped paying rent, she had them evicted. She says her insurance covered some of the $30,000 in damages. 

“It's amazing to me that they continue to come up with false documentation and false references.  How else are they getting into these places if they're not lying?" Ratchford said. 

That's what Bocan says happened in his case. In 2013, he rented out his Sioux Falls home on Denton Avenue to the Zimmers when he moved for a job in North Carolina.

“Middle of April I received notification from a prior landlord that had tracked me down that gave me a heads up on them and that's when it all started," Bocan said.

Bocan says the Zimmers never paid the deposit and he found out they got the first month's rent from the homeless shelter, The Saint Francis House.

"Things started to unravel when all of a sudden I got a call from Matt saying, 'Why do I have a rent deposit check from the St. Francis House?'" Executive Director of the St. Francis House Julie Becker said.

Becker told Bocan that the Zimmers had qualified for a government HUD program to get homeless families off the streets. 

“What they were able to tell me was that there were some documents signed by me. I said, 'Well, I haven't signed any documents.'  And so they sent them over and they had forged my signature to be able to release the first month's rent that I had no idea about. So that's when it really started getting interesting," Bocan said.

“This one was a pretty big zinger.  Wow that someone would go to those measures to forge HUD documents," Becker said.

Becker says all of Jennifer Zimmer's references to get into the program checked out and then she discovered the reason why.

"She had all these numbers and she would transfer or forward the calls to her cell phone and she would act like a new reference every time we were calling, doing these reference checks to see if this would be a suitable family to put into this program," Becker said.

Becker reported the Zimmers to South Dakota Housing, which flagged their record to prevent them from doing it again.

“We truly believed that we were helping this family -- a husband and wife and seven kids not be on the streets and get into a home.  And to find out that most of this was all a complete scam," Becker said.

Meanwhile, Bocan had to go to court to have the Zimmers evicted and found his home trashed in just two months.

"I never want to hear about them ever again and they keep coming up!" Bocan said.

And not just with landlords, but also in the court system. 

Jennifer and George Zimmer's rap sheets are pages and pages long. 

Jennifer has mostly been in trouble for repeated petty theft from gas stations and stores and has been banned from Lewis Drug and J.C. Penney.  For those offenses, she's served time jail. 

Often she's a no show for her court appearances.

Angela Kennecke: Are you Jennifer?
Jennifer Zimmer: Yeah
Kennecke: Can I talk to you quickly?

But on this day she did show up at the courthouse.

Kennecke: Can I ask you about the homes you've rented in Sioux Falls from various...
Jennifer: You get away from me!
Kennecke: ...landlords and done tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage?

Jennifer Zimmer was in court for insurance fraud. 

Kennecke: Jennifer?  Can you tell me about the insurance fraud charges that you're facing now?
Jennifer: They're dropped.  That's what this is for. {Hits mic}

Jennifer Zimmer did have eight counts of insurance fraud dropped against her, but as part of a plea bargain she plead guilty to one count of filing a false claim by forging a denture bill to show it had been paid in full after a car accident, when it had not, and for pocketing more than $3,000. Jennifer Zimmer will be sentenced in April.

Meanwhile, her husband George Zimmer is also facing nine counts of insurance fraud in the same case.  He's set to go on trial in April. 

In 2013, George Zimmer pled guilty to charges against him as a contractor misappropriating funds. He served nine days in jail and was ordered to pay more than $5,000 to a roofing supply store.

The City of Sioux Falls says George Zimmer's company, Zimmer and Zimmer Roofing, has a history of doing work without a building permit and without holding the required residential contractors’ license.

Since 2011, the city has received six complaints from homeowners; George Zimmer owes $1,100 in tickets for not having the proper license or permits. We also checked with the state and he has not paid contractors’ excise tax.  

We tried to ask him about it on his way into court to face charges of driving without insurance and driving with a suspended license. 

Kennecke: Say George, I'd like to ask you about your roofing company and why you've been operating without a license. 
George Zimmer: It's bankrupt. 

The Zimmers' legal troubles are continuing, but the landlords say they have little recourse. 

“While the police were here and kids were yelling at me and screaming, like my hands were shaking. I just wanted to get the door locks changed so they can't get in here anymore. It's just been an emotional time and it's going to cost a lot of money to fix this place," Gibson said.

Kennecke: We've spoken to four different landlords, ma’am
Jennifer Zimmer: So?
Kennecke: Well they all say you've done tens of thousands of dollars in damage to their homes.
Jennifer: Not true, not true.

Bocan and Ratchford have been awarded damages in small claims court, but have never been able to collect a dime.

“It would be nice if these folks would stop this," Ratchford said. 

“It's really sad for their whole family and all these kids who live in all these places," Gibson said.

“But when you're trashing people's places, and you're being fraudulent and you're being dishonest--this is just ridiculous, Becker said.

Since starting this investigation, we've heard from more landlords who say they also got the Zimmer Experience, going back as far as 12 years.  

We'll follow the Zimmers' insurance fraud case through court and let you know what happens.

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