Hiding Her Cards

Every time Gerry Ferraro runs for office, she is caught in the crosshairs of her husband's sleazy business practices. Now she's positioned herself for casino gold by dumping the partner who found her Foxwoods deal.

It would not just be Zaccaro's yellow sheet that might attract enforcement attention. It would be the parade of thugs who've trekked through Zaccaro's 218 Lafayette Street office, some dealing directly with Ferraro, including Luchese soldier Michael LaRosa, Gambino capo Joe LaForte, Gambino associate Lawrence Latona, Chinatown gangster Eddie Chan, porno racketeer Robert DiBernardo, and mob-tied fixer Harold Farrell. Delany is just the latest recruit to a corporate culture of crime that has inevitably tainted a wife who put her shingle up there, and is a partner -- as well as a frequent officer -- in virtually every entity headquartered there.

But it's not just grimy associations that accompany Zaccaro deals. Zaccaro testified that he had two appraisals done of the North Stonington property within four months of each other in 1995 -- the first pegging the value at $4.2 million and the second at $600,000. Questioned under oath why he did two, Zaccaro freely admitted that "one is market value and one is for tax purposes," an admission that might tantalize an auditor.

Ferraro's tax returns and disclosure statements, both of which are sworn submissions, differ on the percent of her interest for the same year. For example, the return for 1993 gives her and Zaccaro a 21.8 percent share, while the disclosure form she filed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights gives her 12.5 percent. In 1995, she's listed at 20.5 percent on one form and 13.5 on another.

More importantly, her share on her tax returns changes from year to year, as do the reported holdings of other family members, and the testimony of John Sr. and John Jr. suggests that the family accountant comes up with a number for each.

Without any stock issued or any other documentation of the family's percentage shares, the tax returns alone appear to define their interests, and the tax losses which each member claims on the project have a lotterylike quality to them, making Ferraro's write-off appear to be just like one of the "loopholes and injustices" riddling the tax system which she denounced in her January announcement speech. Ferraro's spokesperson didn't deny the shifts in percentages, just insisted they were "proper."

Grilled about these fluctuations in depositions, Zaccaro threw up his hands, passing on question after question about his, Ferraro's, and the family's stake. "I have no idea" how to explain the percentages, he said. Neither he nor his son could explain the $65,000 loan Zaccaro Jr. supposedly made to the company at the same time that his Soho restaurant was sinking in a million dollars of Zaccaro Sr.Ðabsorbed debt. Though no evidence was produced that the loan was made, he was certainly repaid, and the senior Zaccaro conceded: "I don't know how he did it but he paid the money."

The only justification Zaccaro has offered for the Gattoni coup was that he was "furious" at him because Gattoni had signed a contract extension with an investment firm that had a time-limited exclusive arrangement with Zaccaro. Zaccaro said he dismissed Gattoni in a 14-minute phone conversation as soon as he learned about the "unauthorized extension," confirming it in the shareholders' October resolution. As an after-the-fact rationalization, Zaccaro has also blamed Gattoni for failing to secure a sewer permit, though in the nearly two years since Gattoni's departure, Zaccaro's been unable to get one either. In any event, Zaccaro admitted on the stand that he'd refused to fund the sewer options Gattoni brought to him.

The real problem in '96 was that Zaccaro had just obtained a third appraisal, raising the land value to $6.4 million, and that Gattoni was getting in the way of finding the financing that the appraisal was done to generate. Investment firms looked askance at a significant partner with no wherewithal. Delany was urging Zaccaro to cut Gattoni to 5 to 8 percent. Zaccaro had sought all sorts of local, state, and federal assistance for the project without success, and the carrying costs were killing him. Once vital, Gattoni had become baggage.

Gattoni's attorney described the gradual reduction of his holdings as "a plan to bleed this man." His complaint alleges that Ferraro "colluded with Zaccaro to deprive Gattoni of any interest" and "converted the capital and real estate to the detriment, damage and injury" of their onetime partner. It is lawyer's language, but there is a human bite to it.

The woman who would be senator has made a career out of hostile denials about the escapades she joins in with her husband. They got her in trouble with the House Ethics Committee and the Federal Elections Commission in the mid '80s. Her only response to the mob charges in 1992 was that they were anti-Italian. Her know-nothing defense forced the Times's Maureen Dowd to conclude, "She does not seem to feel that as a former prosecutor, a public official and a savvy woman who was listed as an officer in her husband's real estate company, she should have made it her business to know more about 'John's business.'"

Everywhere you look, and every time you look, there is another Ferraro scandal, as inevitable, it seems, as her teeth-clenched determination to run again for the public mantle she surrendered in 1984. It is an arrogance of entitlement born in a grand moment the women of America will never forget.

With special reporting by Anne Benjaminson.

Research: Michael Kolber, Dan Steinberg, Nicole White

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