Md. track owner arrested in Va. on cocaine charge


Mark Raymond Vogel, a billion-dollar real estate entrepreneur who owns Maryland's two harness tracks, was charged with possession of cocaine last week in Fairfax County, Va., after federal drug agents stopped his car and local police arrested him.

Mr. Vogel, 42, who once tried to buy the Orioles and recently has tried to buy Atlantic City's thoroughbred race track, was stopped in his 1990 Chevrolet Corvette last Thursday night about 9:30 p.m. in the Great Falls area of northern Fairfax County by agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Virginia police said yesterday.

Fairfax County police would not divulge the quantity of drugs seized in the arrest, but other law enforcement sources said police found four grams of cocaine.

Law enforcement officials and others familiar with the case said that Mr. Vogel has been the focus of a federal probe for several months. They would not say specifically why he is being investigated, but the probe does not appear to be centered on Mr. Vogel's interest in the racing industry, based on what these sources said. Mr. Vogel's licenses to operate Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County and Delmarva Downs, outside Ocean City, could be jeopardized by a felony conviction, Maryland racing officials said yesterday.

Officer Boyd F. Thompson, spokesman for the Fairfax County Police Department, offered few details of the arrest last week, saying only: "We assisted DEA in a routine traffic stop in the 9300 block of Georgetown Road. . . . Subsequent to that traffic stop, we found him to be in possession of a small amount of cocaine."

Mr. Vogel was arrested and charged by the county police with possession of cocaine -- a felony in Virginia, Officer Thompson said. He then was taken to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, where he was ordered held on $10,000 bond, he said. After spending about three hours in the lockup, he was released after posting bond about 2:30 a.m., county officials said.

A preliminary hearing in the case has been scheduled for Oct. 16, according to records at the Fairfax County General District Court.

Efforts to reach Mr. Vogel were unsuccessful yesterday. His Baltimore lawyer, Paul Mark Sandler, would not comment on the case and said he had told his client not to speak about it.

Officer Thompson he did not believe a traffic citation was issued. Officer Thompson refused to discuss any additional details of the arrest, and DEA officials refused to comment at all yesterday.

The DEA agents who stopped Mr. Vogel's car were from the Washington field office, but the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore is said to be overseeing the investigation, which would seem to indicate a probe of his activities in Maryland.

The U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore had no comment on Mr. Vogel's arrest.

Law enforcement sources said Mr. Vogel's Corvette -- one of four luxury cars and a truck registered to the developer -- was seized in last week's arrest.

Mr. Vogel, who lives in the Potomac section of Montgomery County, purchased Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs in late 1987, and two years later struck a $7.5 million deal with the late racing magnate Frank J. DeFrancis to buy Freestate Raceway in Laurel. That deal set off a minor furor because it included the transfer of 115 race dates from Freestate to Mr. Vogel for use elsewhere.

By law, the assignment of racing days is under the authority of the Maryland Racing Commission, which eventually approved the deal.

Last year, Mr. Vogel, who unsuccessfully bid to buy the Orioles in 1988 and has made no secret of his dream to own a major-league sports franchise, tried to purchase Atlantic City Race Course for about $20 million. That deal has been in limbo since last year, because Mr. Vogel has had trouble assembling a financing package, racing industry officials said.

Kenneth A. Schertle, executive director of the Racing Division of the Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation, said yesterday that the Maryland Racing Commission is empowered to suspend, revoke and refuse renewal of a track operator's license, which is issued before each race meeting at a particular track.

He said that state law does not specifically ban from track ownership or operation someone charged or convicted of a felony. But he did say that the Racing Commission's powers are "very broad" under the law, and the panel could review a license based on a felony conviction.

"The gravity of it would have to be considered by the commission before they would take any action," Mr. Schertle said.

Charles K. Bradley, deputy director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, said yesterday that if Mr. Vogel's bid to buy the Atlantic City track ever comes to fruition, criminal charges and convictions would come into play.

"If in fact this deal would surface again, . . . we would certainly look at at it," Mr. Bradley said of the cocaine possession charge. "It would be taken into consideration in approving the sale."

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