Several Queens, N.Y., political and school officials said yesterday that, like Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro, they were not aware that Nicholas Sands had a criminal record when he held a series of state and local offices in the late 1970s.
News accounts in New York and London over the weekend disclosed that Sands organized a fund-raiser for Ferraro's second campaign for Congress in late 1979, raising nearly $50,000, at the same time he was fighting to avoid a prison sentence after being convicted for labor-law violations under another name in 1975.
At the time, he also held elected unpaid positions on the Democratic state committee and the local community school board and had been appointed by the mayor to the board of a nonprofit city development corporation.
The Ferraro campaign issued a statement Monday listing Sands' many other civic duties. "Under the circumstances, Congresswoman Ferraro had no reason to believe that Mr. Sands was anything but a respected member of the community," the statement said.
The officials who dealt with Sands at the time said they didn't know of his criminal record until newspaper accounts in May 1980, after he was gunned down leaving his home. He was shot several times but recovered.
Sands was indicted on several federal labor-law charges in 1973, when he was president of a Queens carpenters' union local. He was charged under the name of Dominick Santiago, and the indictment said he was "also known as" Nicholas Sands, according to a federal official familiar with the case.
Sands was convicted in 1975 of diverting union welfare fund money to the union general fund and of billing the union for $870 in expenses for personal trips overseas, the official said.
He was sentenced to 4 1/2 years' probation and served six months in prison in 1981, after his appeals were rejected, according to court records. During that period he was elected or appointed to the political, school and civic posts.
Richard Rubin, executive secretary of the Democratic Executive Committee of Queens County for the past 14 years, recalled that Sands was active on the local community school board when he was elected a member of the state Democratic committee in the late 1970s.
Anthony Sanfilippo, superintendent of Community School District 24, remembered that Sands was "an exemplary school board member."
A spokesmen for Queens borough President Donald Manes, who recommended Sands as a director on the New York Public Development Corporation, said Manes didn't recall how Sands came to his attention.
"But he was active in the community. He was on the school board, on the party committee," the spokesman said.
The dinner Sands organized for Ferraro in November 1979 attracted a large crowd to a Queens restaurant, including House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).
A spokesman for Ferraro's first campaign manager, Carmine Parisi, said Sands was active in local Democratic politics, including Hugh Carey's race for governor the year before, when he offered to hold the fund-raiser.
Queens County Democratic official Rubin said there were "absolutely not" any background checks for candidates running for membership on the state party committee.
"We're delighted to have people active in the community running," he said.
At the time, a man and a woman were elected to the state committee for each of Queens' 17 state assembly districts. Rubin said he couldn't recall when Sands served as committeeman.
An official of the community school board said Sands served as one of nine members of the board from mid-1977 to mid-1980. There are seven such school boards in Queens.
A spokesman for the city's Public Development Corporation said his records show that Sands was appointed to the 31-member board by Mayor Edward I. Koch, on Manes' recommendation, in October 1978 and last attended a meeting on April 30, 1980. That was eight days before he was shot.