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John Zaccaro Jr. Sentenced To Four Months in Jail

June 16, 1988

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) _ The son of former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro was sentenced today to four months in jail for selling $25 worth of cocaine to an undercover police officer two years ago.

John Zaccaro Jr., 24, and his parents stood stoically as Judge Francis McCaffrey handed down the sentence in Vermont District Court in Rutland.

″I can’t in good conscience sentence you without any time to serve,″ McCaffrey said. The sentence also includes 300 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine.

″We are obviously very disappointed by the harshness of the sentence,″ Ferraro said, noting that other defendants in Vermont drug cases have received lighter penalties.

″We’ll continue on our way with an appeal. We love our son,″ she said.

A tearful Ferraro had asked McCaffrey not to treat her son differently than any other person convicted of selling a quarter of a gram of cocaine.

Ferraro, who ran on the Democratic ticket in 1984, said her son’s arrest and conviction has taken a heavy toll on her family and her son.

″He doesn’t go to church with us,″ she said in Vermont District Court. ″He doesn’t want to be seen with us. It’s not because he’s ashamed of us. It’s because he’s ashamed of what he’s done.″

Zaccaro told McCaffrey in a quivering voice that he has sworn off drugs.

″I’d like to make a personal pledge to you and my family that I will never again be involved in drugs or any illegality,″ he told McCaffrey.

McCaffrey suggested that the jail time be served through the Chittenden Community Correctional Center in Burlington so that Zaccaro could participate in a special corrections program that allows him to be kept under house arrest.

However, Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn said later that Zaccaro would have to be accepted into the program.

Zaccaro is free during the 30 days he has to appeal the sentence.

Zaccaro faced up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

His attorney, Charles Tetzlaff, had asked McCaffrey to accept a probation officer’s recommendation of a suspended sentence, probation and community service of unspecified length.

Quinn recommended a jail term, citing the deterrent effect on drug cases in society. He did not specify the length, but said afterward he was pleased with the sentence.

He denied that he had treated the case differently.

″This was a case in which we caught someone red-handed, and I mean red- handed,″ Quinn said. ″I felt that it was important for the court to say it doesn’t matter who you are. If you commit a drug offense in the state of Vermont, you’ll be treated with great severity.″

Also at the sentencing hearing, the founder of Covenant House, a New York City shelter for runaways, said he believes that Zaccaro has learned from his mistakes and should not be imprisoned.

Zaccaro has worked as a volunteer for the shelter in a program that brings runaways, child prostitutes and other children from the streets to the center.

″You can’t try and reach these kids ... without coming into a far better and deeper understanding of your own value system,″ said the Rev. Bruce Ritter. ″Probably the most important things we learn are from our mistakes. John has learned them.″

Quinn said earlier that he wants the sentence to be noticed to deter other drug sellers and users.

″If you want to get a message out to people, you certainly want to send that in a high-profile case,″ the prosecutor said. ″We need to educate people about the horrors of drugs and if that doesn’t work, at least scare them away because of the possibility of legal sanction.″

At the hearing, Quinn asked Ritter what message the sentence should send regarding drug use.

″I doubt that incarceration of John would be much of a deterrent to anyone,″ Ritter replied. ″Incarceration for John right now would be more in line of society seeking retribution rather than deterrence.″

Also testifying this morning was former Middlebury police Sgt. David Wemette, who said that while investigating the case he found highly sophisticated scales on Zaccaro’s desk.

″He needs no more punishment,″ Ferraro said of her son in a letter written to McCaffrey. ″He has been publicly ‘flogged’ on national and international TV.″

″He will never touch drugs again and maybe someday I’ll even say it was a blessing in disguise,″ Ferraro wrote. ″Right now, it still hurts too much to do so.″

Zaccaro has grown into ″a mature, much quieter, much more self-conscious adult″ since his arrest, Ferraro wrote.

The letter is among 30 that McCaffrey has received before sentencing Zaccaro. The contents of the letters are a part of the court record. Ferraro’s 1984 running mate, Walter Mondale, also put in a good word for Zaccaro, said court clerk Ann Dingler.

″I saw him as a very fine young man who quickly became good friends with our children and who campaigned in a spirited and strong way around our nation,″ said Mondale.

Zaccaro was convicted by a jury in April in Vermont District Court in Rutland. He was arrested in February 1986 after selling $25 worth of cocaine to undercover agent Laura Manning while he was attending Middlebury College.

Manning testified that she went to Zaccaro’s off-campus home and inquired about buying cocaine. She said Zaccaro produced a tray of cocaine packets from underneath the living room sofa. Zaccaro was arrested that night outside the restaurant where he worked.

Tetzlaff claimed Zaccaro had been entrapped, saying police had used Manning as bait to snare him during a college party weekend. The prosecution denied the charge.

Quinn had filed a motion asking that he be allowed to introduce at the hearing photographs of evidence seized from Zaccaro’s car. Police said the evidence included $1,600 in cash, 8 grams of cocaine and records of drug transactions.

The evidence was excluded two years ago when McCaffrey ruled police had insufficient evidence when they obtained the warrant to search Zaccaro’s car.

On Wednesday, a judge denied Quinn’s motion, setting the stage for today’s sentencing.

Zaccaro wrote about his work at Covenant House in the March issue of Women’s Day magazine, describing at length the experiences of children on the streets and his decision to volunteer.

″When I told my parents, they were pleased. When I told my lawyers, they were not. They knew it meant my dealing with drug users. It would not be good for my image. I laughed,″ he wrote. ″There were kids who needed help. ... I’ve been lucky. These kids never had a fair chance.″

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