Because he was a low-paid governor, he did get financial assistance from friends - but most of it was accepted only to meet the extraordinary financial demands of his first wife. The help he got and the small gifts he received were part of his private life, as he saw it, and had nothing to do with his official decisions.
Those same friends kept their business secrets to themselves and he understood, even when they lied to him about it. If he is guilty of anything, it is perhaps naivete.
This was Marvin Mandel's defense, laid out over six days in 10 1/2 hours of testimony completed last week at his corruption trial.
It was an argument Mandel has made over the years to questions about his relationship with his friends. It remained unchanged as his defense to 23 criminal fraud counts levied against him by federal prosecutors, who charge that he abused his office as governor to defraud the citizens of Maryland in return for $350,000 in favors from his friends.
Mandel conceded only one point, that "perhaps" he might have been more candid with the press. For instance, he had denied - until the trial - that he received a $42,000 loan from the Catholic Pallottine Fathers. He said he also failed to mention during his post press conferences the free diamond jewelry, free wardrobe, other loans or generous business deals from his friends because the press would have attacked him.
It was Assistant U.S. Attorney Barnet D. Skolnik who challenged Mandel's interpretations in court last week, and Skolnik accused the governor of lying. He portrayed the favors as payoffs to Mandel in return for the governor's promotion of legislation to benefit the Marlboro Race track when it was secretly owned by his friends.
Rather than accept Mandel's self-portrayal as a low-paid governor blessed with generous friends, Skolnik pointed out that Mandel received as governor free housing in a mansion, servants, furnishings, food and drink - all paid for by taxpayers - plus luxurious Florida vacations, diamond jewelry and entergency loans from his friends. Those tokens of friendship, Skolnik contended, were hidden through laundered checks, disguised bills, backdated letters and money drops by strangers at a New York City airport.
"Perhaps, if I had to do it today under today's circumstances, what I did in thse days, I might have reached a different decision," Mandel said as his parting defense to the jury.
The multicount indictment charges Mandel with deliberately lobbying for legislation in 1972 to benefit the Marlboro Race Track because his friends and codefendants were the secret owners. Mandel received the $350,000 worth of benefits in return for the lobbying efforts, the indictment charges, from W. Dales Hess, Harry W. Rodgers III, William A. Rodgers, Irvin Kovens and Ernest N. Cory Jr. All but Kovens have said they were the owners of the track.
The major point of contention left in this case is motivation. What Skolnik describes as a conspiracy. Mandel sees as a clear cut case of friendship. His description of Kovens, his oldest friend among the defendants, could just as easily fit the others.
"It had been a close personal relationshop. We have traveled together, our families have traveled together we have been places together . . . we have enjoyed each other's company," Mandel recited, smiling towards Kovens. "It's that kind of relationship."
Mandel went hunting with Harry Rodgers. His second wife Jeanne became best friends with Dorothy Rodgers, wife of William. He went to Cleveland to watch a football championship with Kovens. And Hess, well, they had been suite-mates during past legislative sessions, the kind of friends who like to "razz" each other.
A dinner meeting at which a prosecution witness said Mandel was directing strategy with Hess on how to pass a race-track bill, the governor described as a jovial supper where everyone let down his hair.
"We started to kid a little bit back and forth. That's when I was doing some of the razzing we were talking about earlier," Mandel said. "I think we each had a drink . . . well, I was just feeling good and I was giving Dales a little bit of a razzing."
They were the sort of friends with whom Mandel exchanged gifts, although his were less spectacular since his friends were millionaires and he was the third lowest paid governor in the country.
They were also frank, especially Kovens. "He used to say, if you're going to be a governor, you have to look like one and you sure don't," Mandel grinned. "You have to understand Mr. Kovens, he loves to rib everybody."
So Kovens, who has been pinpointed by direct evidence as the majority stock holder in Marlboro and the man who would benefit most from any Mandel lobbying for the track, made light of Mandel's wardrobe and bought him $2.33 worth of suits.
A friendly wager with Hess led to the $4,500 diamond bracelet for Mandel's first wife, hardly a bribe. Christmas, birthdays, special occasions accounted for most of the other expressions of friendship.
When tragedy struck - his divorce was a "traumatic experience" that Mandel said he had difficulty discussing in the courtroom - the friends did not disappear. Kovens produced $155,000 toward a divorce settlement and also guaranteed the fulk of the settlement, estimated at $400,000. During the separation period, Hess, sensing the governor's difficulties, paid an old $15,000 legal debt to Mandel with a partnership agreement prosecutors contend was worth $140,000.
After his attorney Arnold Arnold. M. Weiner apologized for being forced to mention Mandel's 1973 separation from his wife Barbara and his 1974 divorce and remarriage to jeanne Blackistone Dorsey, the governor spent one and a half hours explaining his personal tragedy.
"It was a very traumatic experience, something that no one likes to go through," Mandel said in a lowered voice.
The December 1973 settlement was especially difficult, he said. "There was really no division (of property). I turned all the property over to my wife . . . except for my personal trophies.
The first suggestion for alimony was "financially impossible for me to do" and the second became feasible only when Kovens attended a meeting with the estranged couple and agreed to financially back the divorce. Mandel said the Koven's money was a loan, and he produced a hand-written memo that requires the money to be paid back by 1990.
The prosecution concentrated more on two business deals Mandel made with his condefendants during the crucial period of the Marlboro Race Track venture.
Although few facts were left to dispute by the time Mandel took the stand - the prosecution ha ddocumented the laundered loans and the circuitous ways that Mandel took the stand - the prosecution had documented the laundered loans and the circuitous ways that Mandel receives the other benefits - one important question remained:
Did Mandel know his friends had purchased the track when the lobbied to help the bill in 1972 that would have benefited Marlboro and allowed a veto to be overriden that increased the track's profit?
Mandel maintained that he hadn't. In act, he testified his relations with Harry Rodgers and Hess cooled considerably after he learned about their ownership of the track in 1975. He forgave them later after they explained that they had kept their purchase secret to avoid publicity that would have harmed him as governor.
During that legislative session in 1972 Mandel and some of his codefendants purchased a 200-acre farm on Ray's Point on the Eastern Shore. Mandel's name was erased from the corporate minutes and his stock held in the name of codefendant Hess. He did not sign a guarantee for the mortgage, instead, he made an initial contribution of $150 for a share of property prosecutors contend was worth $45,000.
That was not a gift, Mandel said. He refused to guarantee the mortgage because he deserved an equity position for putting the men who bought the property together.
"Governor, isn't a fact . . . your name was kept off the books and records (because) the race bill was being considered in the Maryland General Assembly and you didn't want to run any risk of your name appearing on any piece of paper in connection with Ray's Point?" Skolnik asked Mandel on the fourth day of the governor's testimony.
"One had absolutely nothing to do with the other," Mandel said, answering the question over the objection of his own attorney.
His partnership with Hess led to questions for almost half a day. Mandel received a partnership during the same period in 1972 in Security Investment Company, which leases buildings to the Social Security Department.
Hess signed over to the governor in the company, which prosecutors estimated to be worth $140,000.
When Skolnik pressed Mandel for an explanation of why Hess signed over the complicated partnership interest to pay back a $150,000 legal debt dating form the 1960s, Mandel anwered ambiguously "Frankly, the only reason it was put in writing is that I have something to show that this income was due to me."
When it was pointed out that the phrase legal fees does not appear on the partnership paper and that the only document ever written to formalize the debt was a letter back-dated five years in 1974 ny Hess' secretary, Mandel said he knew nothing about that.
"(Hess) was operating on a shoe-string," Mandel said of his codefendant. "We had an understanding at that time that when he had the opportunity that Mr. Hess would invoice me in one of those transactions he was putting together."
"I was not to be one of the partners," Mandel said, denying that the agreement was ever meant to be a partnership even though it clear, said it was. "I was a personnal matter."
And the coincidence that these transactions took place when his friends secretly owned the Marlboro Race Track was viewed by the governor as an example of how one secret was kept from him.
When he finally learned he said it was years later in 1975, and Mandel said he "realized I would be battered and beaten about something which I had nothing to do with."