Geraldine A. Ferraro, responding to a new flurry of news reports alleging ties between organized-crime figures and her and her family, today dismissed those reports as "lies, . . . awful." She said that although she was not "paying any attention" to them, she "hurt for my mother and my mother-in-law."
"I knew this was going to happen, but I didn't think that it was going to be on this scale," she said in response to recent reports in several newspapers about alleged organized-crime associations as far back as 1936 and questioning whether her parents had been numbers runners in 1944.
"I didn't think they would do this to my husband, my mother, my father, my mother-in law," Ferraro said. "Never."
"Am I angry? I was angry with what they did about the lies about my father. Going back 50 years," the Democratic vice-presidential nominee said in an interview. "I'm hurt for my mother and my mother-in-law. These are two elderly women. What in God's name did they ever do to anyone to deserve this type of thing?
". . . I'll make it up to them. I'll spend the next 50 years making it up to my husband and his mother and my mother.
"I think the story is how much money some of those newpapers have spent on investigative reporters . . . . Would they have done it if I were male? Would they have done it if I were not Italian-American?"
Stories about Ferraro's finances, tax returns and possible associations between her family and alleged organized crime figures have dogged the campaign since Walter F. Mondale selected her as his running mate in July.
One of the new accounts disclosed that a key fund-raiser for the New York congresswoman's second House race in 1979 was Nicholas Sands, who was then fighting a prison term on a labor-law conviction.
Six months after the fund-raiser, Sands was shot eight times outside his home in Queens, but he survived.
This article was among those that the Mondale-Ferraro campaign, in a prepared statement, branded as "irresponsible."
The campaign said Ferraro was unaware of Sands' criminal record at the time, noting that Sands had been former New York Gov. Hugh Carey's campaign coordinator for Queens, a state committeeman and a member of the Queens school board and the New York City Public Development Corporation.
The new allegations were raised over the weekend in a series of articles in the Long Island paper Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer and two papers owned by Rupert Murdoch, The New York Post and The Sunday Times of London.
One of the articles reported that Ferraro's husband, New York real estate executive John A. Zaccaro, had urged a New York doctor to sell two buildings to a reputed captain in the Gambino organized-crime family for a price the seller believes was below market value.
Others repeated earlier allegations that Ferraro's campaign had accepted contributions from a man convicted of labor racketeering, and one reported that Zaccaro's father had been involved with an alleged organized-crime figure in 1936.
Earlier this month, the campaign felt compelled to deny rumors that Zaccaro was about to be indicted in connection with a $550,000 credit-union loan to a Zaccaro associate, a transaction being investigated by New York prosecutors.
"When you deal with innuendo, you cannot answer these questions. How do you deal with rumors?" Ferraro's press secretary, Francis O'Brien, said today. "These are questions that don't deserve answers. They don't relate to her as a candidate for vice president."
Ferraro aides said the only crack in the candidate's composure came aboard her campaign plane last Thursday morning, when O'Brien told her of an unconfirmed New York Post report claiming that Ferraro's parents had been arrested but never convicted on numbers-running charges in 1944.
One campaign aide said Ferraro wept in frustration when told of the report. O'Brien declined to discuss her reaction. During a subsequent news conference in Columbia, Mo., Ferraro bitterly denounced publisher Murdoch as unfit "to wipe the dirt beneath my mother's feet."
Ferraro said today that she "wasn't paying any attention" to the latest reports. "The only thing you can think is maybe they're worried about me and this is the only way they can get at me. I expect this will go on, every day I expect something for the next two weeks."
The latest charges center on three men -- Sands; Joseph LaForte, the reputed Gambino family captain, and Michael LaRosa, a convicted labor racketeer who contributed to Ferraro's congressional campaigns.
Articles in Newsday and the two Murdoch papers said Sands had sponsored a fund-raiser for Ferraro in 1979, raising nearly $49,000, at the same time he was fighting a prison term on a 1975 labor-law conviction.
At the time, Ferraro was raising money for her second campaign and trying to recover costs of her first run for office in 1978.
A law enforcement source familiar with Sands' conviction said today that Sands, who then used the name Dominick Santiago, had been charged with diverting some employers' contributions from his carpenters' union local welfare fund to the local's general fund. He also was charged with billing the union for overseas trips by him and his wife. The source said Sands was "involved with, but not a 'made' member" of an organized-crime group.
A Ferraro aide said Ferraro was unaware of Sands' criminal record at the time of the Nov. 9, 1979, fund-raiser at a Queens restaurant, Terrace on the Park. It was attended by many party luminaries, including House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).
The campaign's statement today said Sands was "an elected New York State Democratic committeeman, a member of the Queens school board, had been appointed by the mayor to the board of the New York City Public Development Corp., and was active in local charities, especially involving the handicapped. He had also been Carey's campaign coordinator for Queens in 1978. Under these circumstances, Congresswoman Ferraro had no reason to believe that Mr. Sands was anything but a respected member of the community."
The articles noted that Sands' son had worked as an intern in Ferraro's congressional office during the summer of 1979.
In May 1980, six months after the fund-raiser, Sands was shot several times as he left his home in Queens. He recovered.
A Mondale-Ferraro campaign aide said today that the candidate first learned of Sands' criminal background from news accounts that followed the shooting and has not used him in her fund-raising efforts since.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Zaccaro, as a real estate broker, had urged a New York doctor in 1979 to sell two buildings on Cleveland Place in lower Manhattan to LaForte, a captain of the reputed Gambino organized-crime family, for $58,000.
"Dr. Tse, you must take this offer because I will never get another buyer like this," The Inquirer quoted Zaccaro as having told his client in May 1979. That was one month after LaForte had pleaded guilty to a tax-evasion charge and three months before he was imprisoned for six months.
Tse signed the contract with LaForte but balked after appraisers told him that the properties were worth more than $100,000.
LaForte sued Tse, and the case was settled in late 1980, with LaForte buying the buildings for $60,500. LaForte resold the buildings less than two years later for $200,000. The Inquirer did not report whether LaForte had made improvements on the buildings during the two years. The Inquirer said the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan subpoenaed the records of the transaction several weeks ago.
A statement by the campaign said the article "infers that Mr. Zaccaro may have acted improperly with respect to the transaction. Again the implication is wrong and unfair." The campaign statement referred to a previous statement from the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, saying Zaccaro was not under investigation but had been questioned as a witness.
The Mondale-Ferraro campaign aide, who asked not to be identified, said Zaccaro has said that he has never met LaForte and did not know at the time he urged Tse to accept the offer that it had come from LaForte. The offer came from Lawrence Latona, a New York undertaker and one of four buyers of a nearby property on Mulberry Street that Zaccaro sold in 1971, shortly after his father died. LaForte later bought that property.
Both the Newsday and Inquirer reports repeated information from an August Inquirer report that said Ferraro's campaign had accepted contributions from LaRosa, who was convicted of labor racketeering in 1982. At the time, Ferraro said, "I've known Mr. LaRosa. He's a businessman in New York and, beyond that, I'm just not going to comment."
LaRosa's relationship with the Zaccaro family began in the 1950s, when John Zaccaro's father, Philip, began lending him money on his bakery business in the Little Italy section of lower Manhattan, according to real estate records.
Philip Zaccaro died in 1971, but the family real estate business continued to manage some of LaRosa's properties. In late 1977, about five months before Ferraro announced that she was running for Congress, Zaccaro told the city that he was withdrawing as manager.
The Inquirer report went even further into the Zaccaro family's background, noting that in 1936 Philip Zaccaro became a business associate of Salvatore Profaci, who the paper described as "a central business operative" in the organized-crime family run by his brother, Joseph.