With his legal defense fund teetering at less than $15,000, accused murderer George Zimmerman announced a new strategy to drum up donations: signed thank-you cards.
The plan to send autographed cards in exchange for donations was revealed Wednesday on Zimmerman’s legal defense fund’s website, managed by his defense attorney, Mark O’Mara.
The announcement said Zimmerman’s fund — which has raised about $140,000 in seven months — will now have a new manager of the defendant’s choosing. And it makes clear that the legal defense fund doesn’t actually pay lawyer fees. O’Mara and attorney Don West have yet to bill a dime, the firm said.
“Priority for the funds will be as it has always been, in this order: to pay for George’s living expenses, to pay for costs associated with the defense, and then — only if funds remain — to pay appropriate legal fees,” the announcement said. “That has always been the priority plan, and we reassert it now. Once the fund is under new management, there will be more affirmative fund-raising efforts.”
Those efforts include a new website and disclosure of how the money has been spent.
In a move that the announcement noted was “at George’s request,” each donor will get a signed thank-you card on personalized stationery enclosed in a discreet envelope that makes no reference to either Zimmerman or O’Mara’s firm. Donors will remain confidential.
Zimmerman, 29, was charged with second-degree murder for the Feb. 26 shooting of unarmed Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin. When Sanford Police declined to arrest Zimmerman, the case made non-stop national news for weeks. That media exposure helped Zimmerman raise more than $200,000 immediately following his arrest six weeks after the killing, from people who felt that civil rights lawyers and the media had unfairly judged Zimmerman.
But Zimmerman kept the money secret, and that concealment ultimately cost him: His bail was revoked, he spent 30 days in jail, a judge issued a new $1 million bond, and his wife was charged with perjury.
Records later showed that Zimmerman went through $36,000 of those initial donations in less than three weeks, paying off his personal credit cards and years of cell phone and Internet contracts in advance.
Once the balance was turned over to his attorney, Zimmerman never managed to match the deluge of contributions that poured in the days following his arrest. He brought in far more money in the single month after his April arrest than he did in the seven months that followed.
O’Mara’s office said about 2,500 people have made contributions ranging from $1 to $1,000.
“The New George Zimmerman Defense Fund will also be operated with the well-documented assertion that George Zimmerman was the victim of a coordinated public relations attack designed to assert that George acted with racial bias, a public relations attack that was perpetrated with the intent to prejudice the media and the citizens of this country with unfounded misinformation about George, and with the purpose of profiting from a tragedy,” the announcement read.
The statement particularly blamed Trayvon’s parents’ attorney, Benjamin Crump. He could not be reached for comment.