While openly lobbying state senators to support a Maryland race track bill, Irvin Kovens sent an unsolicited telegram to a Maryland Senate committee denying any involvement in Maryland tracks, according to testimony today in the political corruption trial of Governor Marvin Mandel.
At today's abbreviated holiday proceeding, Sen. Edward P. Thomas Jr. (R-Frederick) testified that he was summoned from the Senate floor in 1972 for a telephone call from Mandel codefendant Kovens, "the first and only time I received a call from Mr. Kovens."
In the closing hours of the legislative session, Kovens, a longtime friend of Mandel's, lobbied Thomas over the telephone to support a race track consolidation bill that would have provided windfall profits for the track's secret owners, according to testimony. Prosecutors allege that Kovens was one of the secret owners at the time.
Rumors that Mandel's friends had secretly bought the track were already circulating in Annapolis, said Sen. James Clark Jr. (D-Howard), and his committee received the voluntary telegram during the last weeks of the session from Kovens who claimed "no direct or indirect involvement in Maryland racing."
The bill, in its original form, would have awarded 58 extra racing days to Marlboro, a dilapidated half-mile course in Prince George's County, that would have boosted the earnings and profits for the track's secret owners and Mandel codefendants W. Dale Hess, Harry W. Rodgers, William A. Rodgers, Ernest N. Cory Jr. and, allegedly, Kovens.
The track was bought on the last day of 1971 by Hess, the Rodgers brothers, Cory and Irving T. Schwartz - the man who prosecutors alleged served as a front for Kovens. On New Year's Day 1972, Eugene B. Casey, a man who had no ownership interest in the track, held a press conference at the urging of Cory at which he claimed he was the new owner of Marlboro.
In a multicount indictment, the federal prosecutions alleged that the true track owners were shrouded in secrecy so that Governor Mandel could lobby for legislation that would bring profits to his friends' new track. In return, the indictment alleges. Mandel received some $350,000 worth of gifts and favors from these men.
The governor's putative role in influencing race track legislation has been the focus of the trial for the past three court days.
Five former and current state senators have taken the stand in order to describe the events and nuances during that 1972 session in Annapolis that led them to believe that the governor wanted the legislature to override his earlier veto of one bill and to pass the race-track consolidation bill.
The federal prosecution team has yet to produce testimony that Mandel knew that his friends owned the track, however.
Sen. Thomas testified today that on the first day of the 1972 session - when the legislature decides what vetos will be overridden - one of Mandel's chief spokesmen told him that "the governor would not object to an override" on the Marlboro race track bill.
In 1971 the legislature passed a bill transfering 18 racing days from the Hagerstown Race Track to Marlboro, effectively doubling the days that horse races could be held at the Prince George's County track.
Mandel, citing technical problems, vetoed that bill. In the interim his friends secretly bought the track.
Sen. Clark testified today that he was "surprised" by the absence of any lobbying by Mandel to sustain the bill's veto. He also added he was not approached by anyone on how to vote on the bill.
The race track consolidation bill was introduced late in the session and sponsored by members of the Senate Finance Committee, including Clark, who said that it was given tot he committee by the racing commission.
Again Clark testified, he was surprised by the 58 additional days for Marlboro included in the bill which would have wiped out half-mile racing courses in the state and transformed the Bowie mile course into a training and veterinary center.
Under the bill's provisions, the racing days allotted to Marlboro would have been run at a mile course, like Laurel or Pimlico, thereby increasing the value of the days since betting is heavier at the larger courses.
It was on the last night of the session, when the bill seemed dommed by a threatened filibuster, that Sen. Thomas received the telephone call from Kovens. In the last trial, which was aborted because of two outside attempts to tamper with the verdict, other state senators testified that they were approached by Kovens or Mandel who urged them to pass the bill.
However, the bill failed because of a last-minute legislative maneuver by one of Mandel's chief antagonists.