Maryland State Sen. Roy N. Staten (D-Baltimore County) contradicted the sworn testimony of some of his Senate colleagues today, denying their statements linking him with Gov. Marvin Mandel's alleged scheme to push through 1972 legislation that benefited Marlboro Race Track.
Staten, Senate majority leader and one of Mandel's stauchest legislative licutenants, testified that he thought Mandel was the best governor the state has had and questioned the motives of senators who had made the statements.
Two senators had testified that Staten told them the governor would not object if his own veto of a bill aiding the track - then secretly owned by his friends and codefendants - were overriden.
Staten's alleged role in spreading the governor's wishes through the General Assembly is crucial to the case. The prosecution charges in its multicount indictment that Mandel lobbied for the racetrack legislation because his five codefendants owned the track.
In return, the federal prosecutors allege, Mandel received some $350,000 worth of gifts and favors from his friends and codefendants W. Dale Hess, Harry W. Rodgers, William A. Rodgers, Irvin Kovens and Ernest N. Cory Jr.
Staten was reprimanded a number of times by the judge for failing to answer questions directly. Just before he finished his testimony, Staten began a long answer that did not fit the question posed by prosecutor Barnet D. Skolnik. When Skolnik interrupted him to restate his question. Staten reddened and fired back: "Do you want my answer?"
At that point, Mandel attorney Arnold M. Weiner - who had brought Staten to the stand - lowered his head and slapped his forehead in apparent exasperation with Staten.
As one of the key defense witnesses for the governor, Staten spent most of his time on the stand making denials of testimony presented in the prosecution's case.
Staten denied that the governor's lobbyists worked hard on a racetrack consolidation bill that would have benefited Marlboro, and instead, took almost sole credit for pushing the bill. "I saw no evidence of the governor's lobbyists lobbying that bill on the last day of the session," Staten testified, even though at least a half-dozen legislators testified to the contrary.
He testified he had not conversations with the governor about the earlier veto override. When shown a newspaper article quoting him as saying, "I guess it had been decided that the governor didn't have any objection to his veto being overriden," Staten denied that statement.
Staten not only denied the quote printed in a 1975 Washingtnon Post article written by Edward Walsh, he said he 'could not say that' he had even spoken to Walsh.
When Mandel's attorney Arnold M. Weiner successfully kept the article out of evidence, Skolnik told the judge he might call a witness in order to put the article into evidence, apparently referring to Walsh. A Washington Post spokesman said however, that the newspaper "normally contests all subpoenas for reporters to appear in court about something they reported on."
The battle over Staten's testimony also touched on his plans for the future. Staten admitted under cross-examination that he was under consideration for a $42,000 Mandel cabinet position before the governor temporarily turned over his powers to Acting Gov. Blair Lee III.
While categorically denying that he told Sen. Victor L. Crawford (D-Montgomery) the governor didn't care about the 1972 veto override that increased racing days for Marboro, staten also volunteered that Crawford was the type of legislator who supported only those administration bills endorsed by the Washington daily newspapers.
Staten also attacked Sen. Edward P. Thomas Jr. (R-Frederick) who testified earlier that he overheard Staten make his veto remark. Once, Staten testified voluntarily, Thomas had asked for help in killing a bowling alley tax bill.
"I did . . . later to find out that Sen. Thomas owned a bowling alley and his partner in the bowling alley owned a horse," Staten said under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Skolnik. "This is te gentleman you are referring to."
Staten testified that he originally voted in 1971 against the bill that transferred 18 racing days from Hagerstown Race Track to Marlboro because "it was pushed hardest by a man who usually opposed racetracks."
The bill passed and was vetoed by Mandel. When the bill came up in the 1972 session for a possible veto override, Staten testified that he had changed his mind and voted to override the veto because the Hagerstown Race Track was in trouble.
In the interim between Mandel's veto and the override, the Marlboro track was secretly purchased by the codefendants, all of whom but one later publicly aknowledged that they bought the track on Dec. 31, 1971.
Later in the 1972 legislative session, Staten testified, he became the main supporter and floor manager of the racetrack consolidation bill, which in its original form would have added another 58 days to the Marlboro schedule, increasing the track's profits.