In the roughly 37 hours George Zimmerman spent talking on the phone during his first stint in jail, there are several minutes that could land his defense attorney in hot water.
One call suggests defense lawyer Mark O’Mara knew from the start that tens of thousands of dollars in donations had begun pouring in to help Zimmerman.
In a phone call recorded April 14 between Zimmerman and brother-in-law Scott Wilson, the two discuss the new defense lawyer and the attorney’s vision for an upcoming bond hearing. Zimmerman twice said that he told O’Mara that he tried to transfer $37,000 from his online legal defense fund site, but could not complete the transaction because PayPal rules prevent transfers larger than $10,000.
But in court later at Zimmerman’s bond hearing, O’Mara told the judge his client was broke.
O’Mara told The Herald that he does not recall the conversation Zimmerman referred to and would not risk his law license lying to the court.
“He said he’s going to have me declared indigent,” Zimmerman told Wilson on the call. “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.’”
Wilson, the man O’Mara identified as the person who administered Zimmerman’s online fund-raising drive, at one point asks Zimmerman whether the lawyer knows “the volume” of the donations that came in 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.
In April, O’Mara filed a motion saying Zimmerman had no job and no “significant financial assets or savings.” Zimmerman’s wife testified the couple had no income at all that she knew of.
The judge granted 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, and said he learned about the money in a conversation discussing how Zimmerman needed to take down his Internet sites.
That’s when prosecutors reviewed Zimmerman’s jailhouse calls and bank records and found that he, his wife and sister had worked with Wilson to transfer all the donations out of Zimmerman’s name and 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. His wife, Shellie, was charged with perjury.
“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 jailhouse recording shows that Zimmerman was keeping him “at arm’s length” regarding the money he had raised. O’Mara said he does not think the recording is clear-cut about whether Zimmerman told him about the money.