News Column

Zimmerman's Defense Attorney Knew About Hidden Money

July 17, 2012

Frances Robles

Prosecutors released nearly 150 of George Zimmerman's recorded jailhouse phone calls Monday, including one that suggests his defense attorney knew from the start that tens of thousands of dollars in donations had begun pouring in.

In a phone call recorded April 14 between Zimmerman and a friend named Scott, the two discuss the new defense lawyer and the attorney's vision for an upcoming bond hearing. Zimmerman tells his friend that he told his new attorney, Mark O'Mara, that he tried to transfer $37,000 from his online legal defense fund site, but could not complete the transaction because of PayPal rules that prevent transfers larger than $10,000.

He twice mentions telling O'Mara about the money.

"He said he's going to have me declared indigent," Zimmerman told his friend. "I told him I didn't think that would be possible, because there was one sizable transfer I tried to make. It got stopped. You know, $37. He said: 'Well that doesn't matter. Right now you're not working. You're not providing an income for your family. You're probably not going to be employable for the rest of your life.'"

At one point the friend asks whether O'Mara knew "the volume" of the donations that came into the PayPal account Zimmerman had set up to solicit donations from the public. Zimmerman said O'Mara knew about the attempted transfer of $37,000, but not any more than that.

They agreed to keep it that way.

At an April 20 bond hearing, Zimmerman's wife testified the couple was broke, and the judge granted her husband a $150,000 bond. Days later, O'Mara declared to the court that Zimmerman had actually amassed a small fortune in donations.

At the time, O'Mara said he had failed to press his client about how much money he had raised.

Prosecutors then reviewed Zimmerman's jailhouse calls and bank records, and found that he, his wife, sister and the friend had collaborated to transfer all the donations of out Zimmerman's name into cash. Zimmerman and his wife were recorded talking in a simple code to refer to large amounts of money. "Eight dollars" meant $80,000.

Furious, Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester sent Zimmerman back to jail. A new bail hearing was held in June, and Zimmerman was released on a $1 million bond.

Zimmerman's wife was charged with perjury for lying at the first bond hearing.

Critics have questioned O'Mara's role in the plot, wondering whether he was really duped by his client or if he played a role in misleading the court. Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, testified that it was her brother-in-law who managed the online donations and she did not know how much was in it. O'Mara did not call Zimmerman's brother to testify.

Reached late Monday, O'Mara insisted he did not know about the money.

"I recall now some conversation of a transfer, but I don't recall a specific amount," O'Mara told The Miami Herald. "If it was $10,000 or $100,000 or $30,000, I would have remembered. It's not the type of thing you would risk your license to practice law over."

He stressed that the recording shows that Zimmerman was keeping him "at an arm's length" regarding the funding he had raised. He does not think the recording is clear-cut about whether Zimmerman told him about the money.

"I would have remembered $37,000," he said. "I can't imagine not remembering. It puts my credibility on the line."

The bulk of the calls reveal that Zimmerman was bored out of his skull, in a cell with no mirror and no clock. He seemed to have nearly unlimited access to a phone. In jail for just 11 days, he averaged more than 10 15-minute calls a day. He's heard whispering sweet nothings to his wife, and growing exasperated as she fails to understand his code language.

Fluent in Spanish, in one call he lamented to his sister that their parents did not give him a proper Hispanic name like "Jorge." If America had understood he was Latino, the entire ugly affair over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin could have been avoided, he said.

Zimmerman is charged with second degree murder for the Feb. 26 killing of the Miami Gardens teenager. The charges came only after weeks of protests by civil rights activists, people who Zimmerman said wrongly believed him to be "white."

At least one protest was almost held to support Zimmerman, but he stepped in and had organizers call off the rally. On April 19, Zimmerman reached out to Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville to stop him from holding a rally in Sanford that weekend.

Jones had made headlines around the world when his threat to hold "International Burn a Koran Day" on the anniversary of 9/11 set off deadly protests in Afghanistan.

On the phone, Zimmerman prayed with Jones and asked him to give America time to heal.

"I was calling as one God-fearing sinner to another for time for healing, not just for the city of Sanford, for America," Zimmerman said. "I know your intentions are good."

He was inspired by the biblical story of Jesus calming the storms, he said. Jesus, he said, wanted everyone to calm the storms.

Zimmerman asked Jones to come visit him in the jail instead.



Source: (c)2012 The Miami Herald. Distributed by MCT Information Services


Story Tools






HispanicBusiness.com Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters