NEW YORK, OCT. 15 -- John A. Zaccaro was acquitted today of charges that he tried to shake down a cable television company for a $1 million bribe.
"Thank God it turned out the way it did, and I'm glad it's over," Zaccaro said later on the courthouse steps.
When the verdict was read, Zaccaro clapped defense attorney Robert Morvillo on the back. Zaccaro's wife, 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro, hugged their son, John Jr. The couple's two daughters held hands and cried.
Ferraro, a former House member from Queens, sat in a front-row seat during the three-week trial. She replied, "Perhaps," when asked if the verdict could signal her return to politics.
Zaccaro's business dealings came under intense
scrutiny after Ferraro's nomination as Walter F.
Mondale's running mate, and she said today that the case would never have been tried without her national celebrity.
"John is going back to being John Zaccaro, real estate broker, no longer John Zaccaro, husband of Geraldine Ferraro, who ran for vice president of the United States," said Ferraro, who castigated Queens District Attorney John Santucci for bringing the case to trial.
"There's a four-letter word I could use to describe John Santucci," said Ferraro, a former Santucci employe. Pressed for the word, she said, "Dumb."
"We gave our best effort," Santucci said in a statement. "The problems of the case became obvious at trial."
Zaccaro, 54, was accused of scheming with Queens Borough President Donald R. Manes to solicit a bribe six years ago from Cablevision Systems Corp. in return for the lucrative contract to wire the borough. Manes, who was implicated in unrelated corruption cases, killed himself in March 1986.
Prosecutor Paul Pickelle characterized the pair as partners in crime, and Justice John Thorp told the jury it would have to find that Manes broke the law in order to convict Zaccaro.
Cablevision executive John Tatta told a grand jury he understood that Zaccaro had demanded $1 million in return for the contract. But during five days of testimony, no witness directly said Zaccaro tried to extort money from Cablevision. Nor was there any testimony that Manes ever asked for money or suggested anything improper in his contacts with the company.
The defense rested without calling any witnesses.
The jury deliberated six hours over two days. "It has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and people had doubt he did this . . . . They never proved he was working for Donald Manes," juror Ronald Forte said today.
The jury heard about an Oct. 27, 1981, meeting between Zaccaro and a lawyer for Cablevision in which Zaccaro said the process of awarding franchises in Queens was corrupt and Cablevision would have to pay for the right to wire the borough. Cablevision, which paid no bribe, lost out to three competitors. Most of Queens is still not wired for cable TV.
The cable company lawyer, Richard Flynn, was identified by both sides as the key witness in the case, the only person present when the Zaccaro overture was allegedly made.
Flynn, now the chairman of the state Power Authority, said he did not believe Zaccaro was suggesting anything illegal. Instead, he testified, Zaccaro was only delivering the news that the Queens franchising process was corrupt.