Several women friends of developer and racetrack owner Mark Raymond Vogel gave federal investigators critical information that led to his Sept. 13 arrest on a cocaine possession charge and the seizure this week of his corporate helicopter, sources said.
Acting on allegations that Vogel, 42, frequently used drugs in the presence of social acquaintances and business partners, federal investigators interviewed more than a half-dozen women who dated the developer and worked for him at the Bowie-based Mark Vogel Cos., according to law enforcement and other sources.
A longtime girlfriend and employee of the development firm gave investigators specific information about carrying cocaine aboard Vogel's private helicopter for use by the developer and his entourage in Atlantic City, according to sources. The Drug Enforcement Administration cited the information in an affidavit to support the seizure of Vogel's helicopter, valued at about $750,000, on Thursday.
Federal investigators, probing an alleged Miami-to-Washington cocaine connection, heard allegations of drug use by Vogel this spring. Law enforcement sources say that Vogel was considered incidential to the drug-trafficking investigation, but important by virtue of his position in the community.
Vogel's attorney, Plato Cacheris, said his client would plead not guilty to the charge of possessing four grams of cocaine. "I don't know why the U.S. Attorney's Office and the DEA are putting out this kind of effort for a guy who is not a narcotics dealer," Cacheris said.
Vogel's real estate holdings include Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill and Delmarva Downs near Ocean City, Md., and thousands of acres of prime commercial and residential real estate stretching from Northern Virginia to Maryland's Eastern Shore.
He has encountered financial difficulties on numerous fronts, filing for bankruptcy this week on one of his projects in Upper Marlboro. Yesterday he lost an option to buy the Atlantic City Race Track for $17 million.
Vogel, who is separated from his third wife, was known for surrounding himself with beautiful young women, many of whom worked for his company. He gave them expensive jewelry and gifts, typically diamonds, and took them along on business and pleasure trips, according to friends and business associates.
Three women formerly employed by Vogel's company have filed sexual harassment suits, including one alleging assault and battery, against Vogel in the District of Columbia. None of the cases came to trial, and in one there is a sealed settlement. The federal affidavit filed this week in the seizure of Vogel's helicopter relies heavily on information from three confidential informants, who detailed trips to Atlantic City with Vogel in the fall of 1989 and in April of this year.
Meanwhile, Vogel's option to buy the Atlantic City track expired, according to Jim Murphy, the track's general manager and president of the Atlantic City Racing Association.
New Jersey racing officials revealed yesterday that Vogel had been judged qualified to hold a license to operate a track after State Police completed an investigation in March.
Bruce Garland, executive director of the New Jersey State Racing Commission, said he was notified in a letter from New Jersey Attorney General Robert J. DelTufo that State Police found no reason to disqualify Vogel from track ownership. The racing commission planned to consider Vogel's license application as soon as the track sale was completed.
The New Jersey investigation apparently did not uncover any drug activity by Vogel in Atlantic City during late 1989 or early 1990, as alleged in the DEA affidavit, Garland said. He said the DEA may not have informed the State Police of any probe involving Vogel or his associates.
A spokesman for DelTufo declined to comment on the extent of the probe, saying such investigations are "highly confidential."
Murphy said that Vogel, who first signed a contract to buy the Atlantic City track last August, had obtained two contract extensions and had until the last business day in September to close the deal. But Murphy said that Vogel's efforts to find financing were unsuccessful.