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Judge considers increasing Zimmerman’s bond

This news story was published on April 28, 2012.
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By Frances Robles, McClatchy Newspapers –

SANFORD, Fla. — At court hearings and in press interviews this month, George Zimmerman’s defense lawyer said the accused murderer was flat broke, and the attorney would take the case for free.

What a difference a PayPal account makes.

After declining to issue a gag order on Friday or to seal the court file from the media, Seminole Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester is now mulling whether to raise Zimmerman’s bond, after disclosures that the country’s most famous murder defendant had raised $204,000 from a website that accepted donations on PayPal from the public.

It turns out that when Zimmerman’s wife testified in court last week that both were both unemployed and penniless, her husband had access to a small fortune: By the April 20 bond hearing, the balance was $150,000.

Trayvon’s family attorney is calling for sanctions and for Zimmerman to be sent back to jail.

“The lying has begun,” said attorney Benjamin Crump, who led the six-week national crusade for Zimmerman’s arrest. “He showed who the real George Zimmerman is.”

“The Real George Zimmerman” was the name of the amateur website Zimmerman put up in early April that quoted historical figures and included an online tool for people to make contributions. Faced with an onslaught of phony and sometimes offensive George Zimmermans on Facebook and Twitter, defense attorney Mark O’Mara told his client to take the site down and disable all his social media accounts.

That’s when the 28-year-old former neighborhood watch volunteer and criminal justice major said: “What about the PayPal account?” What PayPal account? O’Mara admits asking.

“He absolutely knew there was money in that account. I am not suggesting he didn’t know it was there,” O’Mara told reporters after a court hearing Friday where the issue was disclosed to the court. “The question is whether he felt that needed to be disclosed. … It was an oversight.”

Zimmerman must not have thought the money was readily available for spending, O’Mara said, although Zimmerman had spent some of the funds on rent and on preparing his current safe house. $5,000 went toward posting bond.

The fact that Zimmerman didn’t use the money to post the bond immediately — he was actually released two and a half days after the bond hearing — demonstrates he didn’t intend to deceive the court, O’Mara said.

What’s important, O’Mara said, is that even before his arrest, Zimmerman did not take the money and run. He also turned the booty over to his lawyer as soon as O’Mara learned about it.

“Quite honestly, with everything he’s gone through over the past several weeks, if that’s the only oversight that he has committed, we will deal with it,” he said. “… I’m not even certain it’s relevant.”

Saying he was “extraordinarily busy” preparing the case, O’Mara apologized for not questioning his client more thoroughly about the funds, and said he thought the only money raised was a few thousand dollars in other accounts Zimmerman’s friends established.

Actually, hundreds of people had opened their wallets and tapped their credit cards. O’Mara said he would keep the donor list private to protect them from reprisals. He noted that rather than one or two deep-pocketed benefactors, there were many gifts of a few hundred dollars.

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