Mark R. Vogel, a prominent Washington area real estate developer beset by financial difficulties and arrested on a cocaine possession charge last month, has decided to sell his two Maryland harness racing tracks, his attorney said yesterday.
Vogel, 42, has a monopoly on harness racing in Maryland with the ownership of Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill and Delmarva Downs near Ocean City. State legislators and racing officials have been concerned about the viability of the tracks since the only other harness track in the state, Freestate Raceway in Laurel, closed last year.
Vogel's attorney, Paul Mark Sandler, said yesterday that Vogel, who recently agreed to step aside from the day-to-day operations of Rosecroft amid questions about his financial management, did not want his personal problems to "become the problems . . . of the racing industry."
Vogel, whose real estate interests stretch from rural Virginia to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, was arrested Sept. 13 in Fairfax County and charged with possession of cocaine. Since then, Vogel, whose major projects include the $400 million Bowie New Town Center and a minor interest in the massive PortAmerica project, has been scrambling to finance other threatened real estate ventures as well as his mounting tax and personal debt.
Although Sandler declined to name an asking price for the tracks, knowledgeable racing sources said yesterday the sale could generate $20 million to $25 million.
Vogel paid about $11 million for Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs in 1988, according to published reports at the time. He also has invested millions in the restoration of the facilities, Sandler said.
"The tracks are very profitable," Sandler said. "If he gets the right offer, he will sell. If he doesn't, he won't. This is not a fire sale."
Vogel's willingness to sell the tracks, which he considers among his most valued possessions, are a sign of his desperate efforts to come up with money for other projects, according to friends and business associates.
"I knew that Mark loved the tracks. But maybe this was a realization that with all his other problems, this was one very marketable asset. I'm sure there are many interested parties, both locally and nationally," said Jim Murphy, Rosecroft's general manager.
Last week, Vogel filed for protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws from his creditors on the Villages of Belmont, a stalled development in Upper Marlboro. He also lost the right to buy Atlantic City Race Track because he could not come up with the $17 million price by last Friday.
He owes more than $600,000 in federal taxes and faces a judgment for $724,000 on a defaulted loan from Jefferson Bank.
Joseph DeFrancis, owner of the state's two thoroughbred racetracks, said he was not interested in buying the tracks but said Vogel should have no trouble finding buyers. "The important thing not to lose sight of is that the industry is not Mark Vogel, just like the New York Yankees were not George Steinbrenner," DeFrancis said.
The sale of the tracks must be approved by the Maryland Racing Commission, which conducts a financial, criminal and character background examination of the buyer, said Mike Hopkins, deputy director of the commission. The state legislature also reviews the proposed purchase and makes recommendations to the Racing Commission, Hopkins said.
"They have to come see us before they do anything," Hopkins said. "Our aim is to make sure that whoever buys the track has the financial ability to pay for it and to maintain the operation in a profitable manner."
Vogel's management of the tracks came under scrutiny by the Racing Commission after he withdrew $2 million from track proceeds to finance other ventures and used the tracks as collateral to secure financing on other projects. Last year, the tracks lost more than $1 million, racing authorities said.
Sandler said Vogel did not see anything wrong with withdrawing funds from the track because he owns 100 percent of the stock and invested his own money in its operation.
The racing industry in Maryland is heavily regulated by legislators, who previously had sought a promise from Vogel that he would not use track proceeds to underwrite real estate or other ventures.
Vogel's financial difficulties became apparent in the days after his arrest. According to sources, agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who had followed Vogel from the District, found four grams of cocaine, worth about $400, in his car.
Federal authorities also seized Vogel's corporate helicopter last week after filing an affidavit alleging that "small quantities" of cocaine were transported aboard the Bell Jet Ranger during trips to Atlantic City by Vogel and three other people.
Law enforcement sources have said they are investigating allegations of drug use by a circle of prominent developers and lawyers. The sources said they also are looking independently at land transactions and zoning decisions by some of the same people.
Mark Raymond Vogel lost an option last Friday to buy Atlantic City Race Track for $17 million.
The Maryland Racing Commission Sept. 24 began examining finances related to Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs, both Vogel holdings, after learning that Vogel withdrew about $2 million from the tracks. Vogel bought Rosecroft in December 1987 and assumed $6 million in long-term debt. The two racetracks lost $1.2 million for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 1989, according to state records.
Vogel signed an agreement Sept. 26 to forfeit operational and financial control of the tracks during the investigation.
Also on Sept. 26, Leeland Road Associates Limited Partnership, controlled by Vogel, filed for bankruptcy protection, which halted foreclosure on 872 acres of the Villages of Belmont, an undeveloped 1,200-acre tract planned for luxurious houses in Prince George's County. The partnership failed to make a $219,000 interest payment in August. Papers filed in Bankruptcy Court show the partnership owes $11.5 million in secured loans and about $9 million in unsecured debt.
Federal authorities Sept. 27 seized Vogel's helicopter, valued at about $750,000, alleging that it had been used to transport cocaine to Atlantic City.
Vogel is the developer of the $400 million Bowie New Town Center, for which he pledged track proceeds as collateral, along with other assets, for a Riggs National Bank loan.
Vogel's holdings include 3 percent interest in the long-delayed PortAmerica project in Oxon Hill, a large undeveloped parcel near Dulles International Airport, the Harborside subdivision in Ocean City, Md., and the Hammock Point subdivision in Crisfield, Md. He also has an option to buy more than 1,500 acres in Howard County and has been negotiating to buy several hundred acres in Ocean Pines, near Ocean City.
Jefferson Bank recently filed a judgment against Vogel for defautling on a $724,446 loan, and the Internal Revenue Service has filed a $600,000 lien against him and his wife, Judith Ann, for unpaid 1988 taxes. Last October, he settled a similar IRS tax lien for $305,484. He recently reached an out-of-court settlement on a $700,000 lawsuit by a former business associate.
Vogel and Carter Vincent Boehm, a real estate broker and developer now under indictment in a cocaine trafficking scheme, have been partners in the development of a 750-acre recreational vehicle park near Fredericksburg, Va., according to former business associates.
Staff writers Vinnie Perrone and Howard Schneider contributed to this report.