Two Massachusetts men were charged yesterday with trying to raise $500,000 in cash in 1972 to buy the Republican vice presidential nomination for then-transportation secretary John A. Volpe.
A state grand jury indicted Albert P. (Toots) Manzi, a fund-raiser for Volpe's campaign for governor of Massachusetts, and William V. Masiello, owner of a Worcester, Mass., architecttural firm, for extorting $10,0000 from a New York consulting firm as part of the scheme. The men pleaded innocent.
It was not clear yesterday whether there is any evidence that Volpe or Nixon were aware of the alleged plan to replace Spiro T. Agnew or whether any money was ever delivered.
Volpe and a spokesman for Nixon said yesterday that they had never heard of the alleged scheme.
Reference to the alleged plot to buy the vice presidential nomination was first made yesterday during the arraignment of Manzi and Masiello in Suffolk County Superior Court.
Stephen Delinsky, an assistant state attorney general, asked for a high bond because "the facts underlying this indictment have national implications."
When the judge asked why, he replied: "The commonwealth will prove that Masiello and Manzi conspired together to raise $500,000 in cash for the purpose of delivering the money to former president Richard M. Nixon before the Republican convention in 1972 to influence Nixon's decision to promote then-transportation secretary John Volpe to vice president."
Massachusetts Attorney General Francis X. Billotti said in a telephone interview from Boston yesterday that Delinsky's statement in court was "a brief synopsis of the evidence we will present at the trial."
He said he couldn't comment on the possible involement of Nixon and Volpe. But he said of the charges, "I never go out on limbs. I don't do irresponsible things."
It is known that Volpe wanted the vice presidential nomination in 1968, and he is reported to have said thatManzi had raised $1 million for his campaigns for governor. But Volpe said yesterday that he never aspired to be vice president in 1972.
The charges against Manzi and Masiello are a spinoff from a federal extortion trial last year that resulted in convictions of two former state senators.
Sources familiar with both investigations said yesterday that officials of McKee-Berger-Mansueto Inc., a new York construction management firm, reported details of the separate alleged extortion attempts to the FBI in 1974.
It was not clear yesterday why the U.S. attorney's office in Boston didn't follow up on the alleged attempt by Manzi and Masiello to raise money to help Volpe.
The new indictment charges specifically that Manzi and Masiello met with two members of the MBM firm in May 1972 and demanded $25,00 to protect a contract they held.
The firm responded by giving $10,000 cash to masiello, who passed it on to Manzi, the charges said. One source familiar with the investigation said the pair told an MBM official that the money was part of a half-million-dollar kitty to have Volpe made vice president. (Washington Post specialcorrespondent Stacy Jolna contributed to this report.)