In 1985 the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice investigated former Queens congresswoman and vice-president candidate Geraldine Ferraro to determine whether she made a false statement on her financial disclosure forms with the House of Representatives from 1979 through 1984 according to released FBI documents.
The FBI documents show that "in protectecting the integrity of this investigation" the file was stored in its "Special File Room" with access limited to a few specifically identified officials.
The investigation specifically centered on whether Ferraro lied about the nature of a series of real estate transactions which were set into motion when she was required in 1978 to raise $130,000 in personal funds to pay back campaign contributions from family members which the FEC declared were illegal. Indeed, when Ferraro learned that her husband John Zaccaro had repurchased the very property she had sold to raise the money she told him "it doesn't look so hot" although insisted it was "perfectly legal."
Stephen S. Trott, an Assistant Attorney General with the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, requested the investigative assistance of the FBI in the matter by memo dated March 25, 1985, and framed the parameters as follows:
The Public Integrity Section's inquiry has centered upon the ownership and multiple real estate transfers in 1978 of certain commercial property located in New York City, which may have violated the Federal Election Campaign Act. The true ownership and nature of these real estate converyances may have been falsely portrayed, through statement and omission of fact, on Ms. Ferraro's House financial disclosure statements to conceal possible and unlawful and criminal campaign activity from the Federal Election Commission and Ferraro's political opponents.
According to a July 22, 1985 FBI memo there was a concern whether "the true nature and ownership of this property was concealed, possibly by means of shell companies, strawmen and less than arms length transactions."
The investigation was fraught with difficulties. For example, one "key witness" questioned on the real estate transactions in question was described as "continually obstinate and uncooperative," and "on several questions" the witness allegedly "altered his story." Moreover, the "DOJ [had] been reluctant to inpanel a grand jury" because "of the extreme political sensitivity" of the matter.
Indeed, even after federal prosecutor Michael Jarrett indicated he would "request the impanelment of a grand jury in the near future" as "a result of conflicting statements by [the witness] and various other inconsistencies in the investigation," that decision apparently was revisited. An October 10, 1985 memo states:
Marshall Jarrett, Assistant Chief for Operations of the Public Intergrity Section, Department of Justice, advised that no authority had been granted to conduct Federal grand jury proceedings in this investigation. Jarrett said he had originally intended to use a Federal grand jury but but had since decided that it was premature.
Now, instead of calling the "key witness" and others before a grand jury, "Jarrett informed the FBI that an attempt will be made to interview" him -- "a business associate of [redacted]" -- "in the presence of a court reporter and . . . under oath." The October 10, 1985 memo further provides:
Subsequent to the interview of [redacted] Jarrett anticipates interviews with Ferraro and [redacted]. After the interviews of [redacted], Ferraro, and [redacted] have been completed, the Public Integrity Section will determine if any further investigation would be productive in this matter.
A separate October 10, 1985 message to the FBI Director states that the reinterview of this "key witness" under oath was scheduled for October 22 at his attorney's offices in New York; however, no transcript or summary of this meeting has been released if it in fact proceeded on October 22 or any other rescheduled date.
In any event, Ferraro was interviewed on January 9, 1986 for five hours at her attorney's offices in Washington, D.C. Although FBI documents expressly state that "interview will be conducted as deposition and all statements will be recorded by a court reporter" no transcript was included in the documents released by the FBI. However, it did release a "summary account" of the interview with Ferraro which had been provided to the agency's director.
In connection with the real estate transactions at issue Ferraro stated she "was vaguely aware that she owned two properties in 1978, however until just recently, Ferraro knew absolutely nothing else about them including where the properties were located or how much the properties cost." And in connection with her House financial disclosure forms stated "she became frustrated" with them because she "did not have the necessary data at her disposal" and "decided to have her [redacted] handle it" whom she "never questioned regarding any of the information contained on the EIGA forms."
The FBI characterized Ferraro as "very cordial" who "made every effort to cooperate with interviewers," and concluded as follows:
It is now apparent that Ferraro had almost no knowledge of [redacted] business interests. She entrusted [redacted] to purchase investment properties for her and even authorized him to sign her name on business matters involving her investments. Ferraro expressed little interest in being actively involved in these investments, preferring instead to rely entirely on [redacted] real estate expertise.
With respect to Ferraro's EIGA forms, it would appear that she relied on the expertise of her accountant to complete the financial data. Ferraro took no interest in the "figures" or the forms and never questioned the accuracy of them. It should be noted that there is no evidence to the contrary.
There is little evidence at this point in time to indicate that Ferraro willfully falsified her Congressional EIGA forms for the express purpose of concealing her or [redacted] business interests.
Indeed, early in the investigation one witness characterized Ferraro "as very self-centered, who was interested to distraction over her career and had little interest in anything except what she was working on."
In short, Ferraro was deemed by the DOJ as too clueless to prosecute on May 1, 1986, and the FBI closed its file on the case by final memo dated July 27, 1987.
Further reading that may be of interest: