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Former Veep Candidate Blames Self In part After Son’s Conviction

April 10, 1988

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) _ Former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro says she partly blames herself and her candidacy for her son’s cocaine conviction because it made him ″a target,″ and says the family will appeal the verdict to the Vermont Supreme Court.

″We still believe he was set up,″ said Ferraro of her 24-year-old son, John Zaccaro Jr. But she acknowledged that he had possessed cocaine, and said his legal troubles showed him ″the horrors of drugs.″

A Vermont District Court jury deliberated for slightly more than two hours Saturday before finding Zaccaro guilty of selling one-quarter gram of cocaine to an undercover police officer while he was a senior at Middlebury College two years ago.

No sentencing date was set, and an appeal could take two years. The felony conviction carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

In a statement after the verdict, Ferraro blamed her son for possessing cocaine, as well as herself ″and my candidacy for making my son a target.″ Ferraro ran on the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale in 1984.

″We are a concerned family who has lived through a very difficult two years,″ she said. ″We love our son. We do not minimize in any way his use of drugs at Middlebury College or the fact that Middlebury College is the place where drugs was available to so many students and continues to be so. It was wrong.″

″There are four people who are guilty in this whole episode,″ Ferraro said. ″John for possession. We are grateful that God has chosen this way to show him the horrors of drugs. Me and my candidacy for making my son a target.″

Ferraro’s statement went on to name former Middlebury police Sgt. David Wemette ″for setting my son up″ and Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn for ″prolonging the agony for two years″ by rejecting a plea bargain.

″We, as his parents, would not allow him to plead guilty″ to the felony charge of selling cocaine, Ferraro said. The family had asked prosecutors to allow Zaccaro to plead guilty to a lesser charge of possession of cocaine.

But Quinn would not accept a plea for less than a felony.

″If she wants to be angry at me for not reducing the charge, that’s her prerogative. I didn’t feel there was any justification for reducing the charge,″ Quinn said. ″There was plenty of evidence he was selling. I never considered a possession case and they know that,″ he added.

Ferraro pointed to several drug cases recently heard in Vermont in which plea bargains were arranged easily and light sentences were given to defendants accused of selling larger quantities of drugs.

″That may or may not be true. I know there are some cases like that. It depends on the particular prosecutor. It depends on the particular circumstances of the case,″ Quinn said.

″I recently prosecuted a guy on a felony charge for 37 marijuana plants. Perhaps in some counties they might have reduced that. But as time goes on, I feel more strongly about drug cases. I just think it’s becoming more of a problem in the country and we need to deter that,″ Quinn said.

The defense also had raised the argument that Zaccaro was unfairly singled out because of the publicity surrounding his mother, but the Vermont Supreme Court refused to overturn the charges on that basis.

Jury selection lasted four days, prolonged by wide publicity the case had gained, but the verdict came only one day after the trial itself began.

Opening arguments and testimony began Friday, with the defense claiming Zaccaro was entrapped by a young, inexperienced, attractive undercover police officer. ″This is a case of improper and overzealous police conduct,″ Zaccaro’s lawyer, Charles Tetzlaff, argued.

He called no witnesses, instead basing his defense on attacks on the prosecution witnesses and attempting to show the police investigation was based purely on rumor and that the undercover buy was poorly executed.

But Quinn said Zaccaro was a well-organized drug dealer. He described the deal with undercover officer Laura Manning as just another sale.

″When he takes a packet off the tray, he opens it up, being the good merchant that he is, ... looks at it, wraps it up″ and gives it to Manning, Quinn said.

Manning’s drug buy came Feb. 20, 1986. Quinn said it was arranged after an anonymous note was left on Wemette’s desk in the fall of 1985 with Zaccaro’s name, address, car registration and the words: ″The Pharmacist.″ Police and prosecutors said Zaccaro had earned the nickname because of his reputation as a drug dealer.

Wemette testified he first heard rumors of Zaccaro’s drug dealing in 1984, but did not pursue them because Zaccaro left college to help his mother’s campaign.

Most Middlebury students questioned about the case said the outcome did not concern them. ″My sophomore year it was more interesting. But now, half the people on campus weren’t even here,″ said Bob Woithe, a senior from Palm Island, Fla.

The college had reacted to the arrest by forming a task force that made 20 recommendations to address student drug abuse, most of which have been adopted. They include the hiring of a health educator, publication of a drug brochure, additional security staff, and improved relations with the Middlebury police.

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