It would take someone who viewed political people "very cynically" to conclude that W. Dale Hess "used and abused" his 25-year friendship with Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel by scheming with him to defraud the state's citizens, Hess's attorney told the jury at the Mandel political corruption trial today.
After admitting that Hess had made "stupid and foolish" mistakes in his dealings with Mandel, William G. Hundley, attorney for Hess, implored the jury in his final arguments to ignore the adage that "all politicians are crooks." Remember instead, Hundley asked, that "you go to your friends when you need help."
Of the four defense attorneys to finally argue their case before the jury, Hundley was alone, however, in attacking the basic thrust of the federal indictment against the six defendants.
The other three attorneys who spoke today devoted their hour-long summaries to setting their clients apart from the three major defendants - Mandel, Hess and Harry Rodgers III.
Even if the jurors eventually decide that there was a corrupt scheme involving Marvin Mandel, they said, the prosecution never proved that their clients - Ernest Cory Jr., William Rodgers and Irvin Koven - took any part in it.
The 23-count federal indictment charges Mandel with receiving some $350,000 worth of favors from his codefendants, in exchange for lobbying for legislation which increased the value of Marlboro Race Track, a venture that allegedly was secretly owned by the some of the codefendants.
The prosecution case depends largely on circumstantial evidence, as do many fraud cases. Throughout the trial, the prosecutors have tried to show that each defendant's actions were a crucial part of a whole scheme.
However, attorneys for Cory, William Rodgers and Kovens contended today that their clients' actions didn't fit into that framework.
"I think the evidence will show that the governor was not bought or corrupted, but that's not my problem," said Charles G. Bernstein, U.S. public defender representing Ernest N. Cory Jr. and Michael E. Marr, attorney for William A. Rodgers, contended that "his (Rodgers') very actions indicate to you not only that he's not a part of this scheme, but that he doesn't even know it existed."
Finally, before he listed all the events that his client, Kovans, was not involved in, defense attorney Norman P. Ramsay declared: "there has been no proof that Mr. Kovens participated in any scheme to corrupt the governor, and he did not aid and abet such a scheme."
On Tuesday final arguments will be concluded with a presentation from Mandel's attorney and rebuttal by the prosecution. Soon after, the jury will receive instructions on the charges from presiding Judge Robert L. Taylor, then begin their deliberations.
Mandel, Hess, and Harry Rodgers, brother of William, are listed throughout the multicount indictment as the givers or receiver of gifts and the masterminds of the six-year scheme.
But Cory, the attorney for Marlboro's owher, did no more than "legally and properly" protect the identity of the secret track owners while crucial legislation was pending, Bernstein maintained. Prosecution attorneys had argued Saturday that Cory was the kind of lawyer one goes to in order to get done what a "real lawyer" finds ethically impossible.
"The gifts, jewels, suntans, suits - there isn't one shred of evidence that Cory was involved in any of this," Bernstein pointed out, referring to the flow of gifts Mandel accepted from his friends. Cory is charged chiefly with writing fraudulent documents to cover up the true ownership of the track.
Then, anticipating rebuttal arguments by chief federal prosecutor Barnet D. Skolnik, Bernstein paid homage to the legend of the prosecutor who led the investigation against former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. Pointing to Skolnik, Bernstein warned the jury that: "Mr. Skolnik's skill is such that if he put his mind to it, he could convict St. Francis of Assisi of cruelty to animals."
All the attorneys were fighting today to destroy the labels attached to their clients during the procution's closing arguments on Saturday. All that time, prosecutors described William Rodgers as the "wheel-man" who waits in th car while the bank is robbed. Kovens was pegged as the life-long Mandel friend with the racing expertise and the clout to put together a track deal; Cory was labelled the fixer and Hess was called the front man, the Insulator between Mandel and the other codefendants.
Hundley, Hess's made few attempts to deny th facts of the case, even though Hess plays role second only to Mandel in the indictment. In his summation, Hundley contended that an inference of innocence could be made just as easily from the facts as one of guilt.
"The government goofed up," Hundley told the jury. The indictment charges Hess with giving Mandel a bribe on falucrative partnership interest just before a crucial 1972 legislative action. However, Hundley said, Mandel didn't receive the first partnership check until May, long after the legislative decision had been made and the legislators had adjourned.
"You don't pay anybody off after the fact, or buy their influence when the very thing you are trying to influence has died forever," Hundley asserted.
But the major question of motivation - whether Hess behaved with criminal intent or out of generosity - was answered by Hundley with a recitation of the ways in which Hess helped out his friend the governor. Among these: paying back a $15,000 debt - which the prosecuting calls a bribe - when the governor was in a financial bind; giving $4,500 diamond bracelet to the governor's first wife after Mandel was in a late night automobile accident, and helping his governor receive a $42,000 laundered loan so he could meet alimony payments.
"To be very frank, there was an effort here to conceal something on this whole Pallottine loan," Hundley said, speaking of the $42,000 that originated from the Pallottine Fathers Catholic order. "Let's face it, he [the Pallottines chief fundraiser] would have been in very deep problems in Rome if it had ever come out . . . that the Pallottine religious order was loaning money to the Governor to be used in connection with the divorce."
For attorney Ramsey, the questions of timing and alleged cover-ups and concealments were also key issues in the case against his client, Kovens. However, he said, the prosecutors failed to prove that his client's actions in any way furthered the alleged scheme.
Although Kovens is responsible for providing almost half of the alleged benefits to Mandel, Ramsey pointed out that none of the gifts he gave were mentioned in the 1975 indictment as the reasons for Mandel's allegedly corrupt actions as a governor. Mr. Kovens "is desmonstrably not related to anything that has to do with the scheme," Ramsey asserted.
Kovens, named as one of the best racetrack managers in the state by one witness, is charged by the prosecution with holding the majority 60 per cent interest in Marlboro through a front man named Irving (Tubby) Schwartz.
"It must have startled you," Ramsey said to the jury, "To hear person after person come in and tell you Mr. Kovens was not the owner and then to hear Mr. Liebman [a prosecutor] suggest that witness after witness was wrong."
Schwartz was not a front man, Ramsey asserted, "not somebody who is from nowhere. He is a man of substance, and a man of background." There was no cover-up, Schwartz owned the stock, Ramsey said flatly.
The prosecution contends that since Kovens lent $200,000 to Harry Rodgers to buy the track and did not charge him interest, the loan must have been payment for Kovens' secret interest.
"You don't make loans like that," Ramsey said to the jury. "I don't make loans like that . . . but I don't think any of us ever carry a noninterest-bearing checking account balance of $2,032,000 in one bank."
"We don't have friends calling on us for $200,000, but we have friends calling on us for $20 and $50 and $100. Do you loan money without interest? Of course you do. Does he loan money without interest? Of course he does." Ramsey said, pointing to Kovens' net worth statements that reveal him to be worth some $8 million without considering his wife's independent wealth.
The defense of William Rodgers - the alleged "wheel man" - was to show that, although he was a secret track owner and although he was a partner in Tidewater Insurance Company in Tidewater Insurance Company with his brother Harry and with Hess, he was left out in the dark.
"His actions clearly tell us, no, neither actively nor passively, neither by omission nor commission can the prosecutors fit Bill Rodgers into their scheme," attorney Marr said.
By reading more extensively from transcripts than any other attorney. Marr highlighted the number of times that William Rodgers refused to pay for gifts to Mandel or asked that the track ownership be disclosed publicly. "This desire to disclose, that desire standing along, breaks up the entire theory of a scheme involving William Rodgers," Marr said.