Her Son's Cocaine Conviction Prompts a Fierce Rebuttal from Geraldine Ferraro: 'he Was Set Up'
Four years have passed but, for Geraldine Ferraro, running mate of Democratic nominee Walter Mondale in the 1984 White House race, the fallout from her ill-fated run for the Vice-Presidency shows no sign of letting up. It landed three years ago on her husband, John Zaccaro, who, placed under the glass of public scrutiny, was shown to be involved in a real estate scam and narrowly avoided jail. Now the family’s unfortunate drift toward notoriety has claimed her son, John Zaccaro Jr., 24: Convicted two weeks ago in Rutland, Vt., of selling¼ gram of cocaine to an undercover agent in Middlebury, Vt., Ferraro’s only son could face up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. “We love our son,” said a stony-faced Ferraro, reading from file cards outside the courthouse just moments after the verdict, “and we do not minimize in any way his use of drugs at Middlebury College….[But] we still believe he was set up.”
It is Ferraro’s claim—and the argument of defense attorney Charles R. Tetzlaff—that John Jr. was “selectively prosecuted.” Tetzlaff argued that Zaccaro, a senior at Middlebury when he was arrested two years ago, was singled out for jury trial even though drug cases involving students from the private liberal arts college were usually handled internally by campus officials. Tetzlaff claimed that young Zaccaro was a victim of a police entrapment scheme baited with an attractive young female officer who posed as a student to make the buy. Zaccaro was “set up,” he said, by “overzealous” cops out to make a name for themselves by busting the son of Geraldine Ferraro.
To this, prosecuting attorney John Quinn retorted, “I don’t care who his parents are….His conviction sends a message that drug pushers will not be tolerated in Vermont.”
It was clear, however, that the prosecution did care who John Zaccaro Jr.’s parents were—at least, an eager Middlebury police officer named David Wemette did. Wemette says that he first heard that Zaccaro was dealing drugs in the fall of 1984 and made the connection with Ferraro’s vice-presidential campaign. A year later, Wemette testified, he received an anonymous note containing Zaccaro’s name, address and the word “pharmacist.” He decided to use 22-year-old police officer Laura Manning to test the rumor. Manning said during the trial that she simply walked up to Zaccaro’s off-campus house, knocked on the door, and said that she’d been told she could purchase cocaine there. She said Zaccaro answered, “Sure.” He then proceeded to pull out from under his couch a tray that contained about 15 packets of cocaine marked in¼-,½-and one-gram designations. That was it. Zaccaro was arrested three hours later at Mr. Up’s, a restaurant where he worked part-time as a bartender.
Geraldine Ferraro was at her son’s side throughout the week-long trial. She attended even the smallest status hearings for her son, and each time she showed up, the event turned into a media circus, causing her at one point to berate the press, calling them “vultures.” During the trial she positioned herself behind defense attorney Tetzlaff and used a chair with wheels to ferry forward to him a stream of notes and suggestions about the case. So involved was she in the proceedings that she could be heard several times whispering, “Object, object.” It was almost, said one observer, as if Ferraro felt herself to be on trial.
—By William Plummer, with Yvonne Daley in Rutland