NEW YORK — The influence-peddling trial of John A. Zaccaro opened Monday with a prosecutor urging prospective jurors to put aside their feelings for Zaccaro's wife, former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro.
"This case is not about women's rights or who should be vice president," Paul Pickelle, assistant district attorney, told candidates for the jury, which will consider charges that Zaccaro demanded a bribe from a cable company.
Ferraro was in the courtroom as the trial opened. Prosecutors had objected to the former congresswoman's presence because she is a likely defense witness. But state Supreme Court Justice John Thorp Jr. ruled that the prohibition of witnesses from the courtroom is a matter of custom, not law, and allowed her to remain.
Zaccaro's lawyers have not asked to move the trial but have said they might if seating a jury becomes difficult.
Zaccaro, a 54-year-old real estate investor, is charged with receiving bribes and with attempted extortion.
He allegedly worked with Queens Borough President Donald Manes in 1981 to demand an unspecified bribe--reportedly $1 million--from Cablevision Systems Development Corp., which wanted the Queens cable television contract. The money was not paid, prosecutors said, and the company did not get the contract.
Manes, who killed himself in March, 1986, as corruption scandals began to unfold, is expected to be a key factor in the trial.
On Monday, at the request of Zaccaro's lawyer, Robert Morvillo, Thorp said he would not allow testimony about conversations Manes had with Cablevision President John Tatta on March 26 and 28, 1982, and would not allow the admission of entries from Manes' diary from March 5 and 26.
Zaccaro faces up to seven years in prison if convicted and maintains that he is "simply and completely innocent."