Washington — Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and her husband, John Zaccaro, on Monday sent the Internal Revenue Service a check for $53,459 in taxes and interest overdue since 1978.
The couple owed the government the money, because their accountant forgot to count on their '78 tax return income related to a newly assumed mortgage on a New York property.
''This was an error by their accountant. In the (current) process of reviewing their tax returns, the error was discovered,'' says Francis O'Brien, a spokesman for the Mondale-Ferraro campaign.
The payment was announced at a chaotic press conference here in Washington, at which Ms. Ferraro's and Mr. Zaccaro's tax returns for the last five years were released. Among other things, the returns revealed that:
* Ferraro paid 39 percent of her gross income in taxes between 1979 and '83, when she filed returns separate from her husband. During that time, she earned $ 332,474, while paying $130,922 in federal, state, and city income taxes.
* Zaccaro paid 41 percent of his gross income in taxes during the same period. His earnings were $533,969; payments to federal, state, and city governments were $220,344.
* Ferraro has continued to have a financial connection with her husband's real estate firm. In 1983, her tax forms record a $4,082 loss from investments in P. Zaccaro Co. Inc. In 1982, she earned $51 from the company; in 1981, $2,962 .
* Zaccaro indeed bought back an interest in a building his wife had sold to pay back illegal loans made by her husband and children to her '78 campaign. While appearing to skirt the purpose of campaign finance laws, this transaction was made with innocent intent, and was not illegal, according to a Mondale campaign official.
* Zaccaro has ordered that the lease of BO-NA-TE Distributors, an alleged pornography firm located in a Zaccaro building, not be renewed when it expires in January. In addition, he has given notice he will no longer manage a building at 68 Mott Street in Manhattan, where on four recent occasions police have made arrests for gambling activities.
The revelations appeared to represent a mixed blessing for the Ferraro campaign. Some commentators had speculated that Ferraro and Zaccaro had paid little in taxes. The tax returns appear to refute that charge.
But since 1978, Ferraro has annually omitted her husband's financial data from her congressional financial disclosure forms. She did this by checking a box that indicates she does not know about or have ties to her husband's business. This action now appears questionable, in light of the fact that her tax returns show she still has some investments in P. Zaccaro Inc. and that she is listed as an officer in that company under New York records.
Although Ferraro released her '79-83 returns, they are still under review by her accountants. Disclosure of Ferraro's Federal Election Commission Form 278, a document required of vice-presidential candidates, was scheduled for late Monday. Reporters had expected all documents, including Form 278, to be made available Monday morning. But confusion and undone work pushed things back: The tax returns themselves weren't ready until early afternoon.