FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The woman charged in South Florida's killer clown case claims she has no car, no cash, no property and is too poor to pay for her defense. But prosecutors say she's faking - and is cheating Florida taxpayers of thousands of dollars.
These allegations come after Sheila Warren - despite her spouse hiring her lawyer for $150,000 - suddenly claimed six months ago that she couldn't afford to pay for court transcripts and other defense costs.
Discovery of the alleged fraud prompted the judge overseeing the case on Friday to call off the Jan. 31 scheduled start of Warren's murder trial.
Palm Beach County prosecutors say they dug deep into the couple's finances and obtained bank records since her 2017 arrest and subsequent claims of having zero assets.
Investigators discovered Sheila and Michael Warren last year shifted $300,000 into his sole bank accounts, and she signed over to her spouse the title to their $581,700 Virginia lakefront estate home.
Also, the Warrens purportedly own a Tennessee home valued at $184,800, plus two cars each valued at $40,000, and other bank accounts are being explored.
But yet she said she's in the poor house.
"In fact, her actions are contemptuous and criminal," Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes wrote last week. "The Defendant and her husband have done nothing short of perpetrating a fraud onto the Court and the State of Florida."
It's unclear in court records precisely how much public money has been spent so far on Warren's defense costs.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case, in which they say the woman then known as Sheila Keen wore a clown costume during the 1990 killing of Marlene Warren, and 12 years later married the dead woman's husband in Las Vegas.
An original person of interest, Sheila Warren, 56, was charged after detectives used DNA evidence to make what they called a cold case breakthrough.
Warren is represented by a private legal team led by Richard Lubin, who previously informed the court that Michael Warren has paid $90,000 toward the lawyer's fee for the case.
Lubin told the court in April that his client's husband "has been unable to pay the agreed upon fee in full to date and has no financial ability to pay the costs associated with the case, specifically the depositions" of 102 witnesses.
This prompted the state to examine Warren's true worth.
They said they found Warren and her husband control a "substantial amount of cash," with a sum of $319,000 in Michael Warren's bank accounts as of July 31.
Prosecutor Fernandes wrote there are "no valid rationalizations, justifications or excuses" for Sheila Warren claiming she can't afford her legal bills.
He noted that Florida courts in the past have ruled that signing money over to a spouse can't "create" or classify someone as poor.
"The Defendant has deliberately abused State's funds through knowingly and intentionally falsifying her application in order to seek status as being indigent," Fernandes wrote.
The prosecution wants Circuit Judge Joseph Marx to revoke Warren's indigency status and force her to repay the state. Lubin said he was not ready to respond to the allegations.
"We're going to do an investigation," Lubin said, as Warren listened from her seat in the courtroom.
The judge set a Nov. 22 hearing on the matter. A new date for the trial also could be scheduled at that time.
Marx said the trial delays were unfortunate, considering how long Warren has been in custody on no bond, and the victim's family's wait for justice.
Joe Ahrens, Marlene Warren's son, attended the hearing with his attorney, Lance Richard. They declined to speak with reporters.
On May 26, 1990, the 40-year-old victim opened the door of her Aero Club estate home for a clown wearing an orange wig, a red bulb nose, gloves and a smile painted on white makeup. The clown held two balloons and flowers in one hand and a pistol in the other.
The clown fired at Marlene Warren's face and fled in a white Chrysler LeBaron, which was found four days later abandoned at a shopping center parking lot.
Michael Warren, also named as an original suspect, was convicted of financial crimes connected to his West Palm Beach used-car business. Keen, allegedly his mistress, had worked for him as a "repo lady," records show.
For years after they got married, Michael and Sheila Warren operated a popular fast-food restaurant in Kingsport, Tenn., called the Purple Cow, not far from their Abingdon, Va., home.
Since his wife's arrest, he has stood by her.
"It's sad that, you know, they try to make somebody guilty that's not guilty," Michael Warren told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in May. "If there is any justice in this world whatsoever, she will be a free woman" after the trial.
Sheila Warren's lawyer told reporters on Friday that the nature of it being a nearly 30-year old murder case has slowed trial preparations.
"Witnesses have moved away, we don't know their addresses, some of them have become disabled, some of them are dead," Lubin said.
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com