Milton J. Polinger, a now-deceased member of the Maryland Racing Commission, reluctantly approved granting extra racing days to the Marlboro Race Track because Irvin Kovens, Gov. Marvin Mandel's closest friend, told him the governor wanted "a yes vote on those days," Polinger's former wife testified today.
The unexpected testimony so angered Kovens' wife that she confronted her onetime friend, Helen Polinger, in full public view as she was leaving the courtroom and chastised her.
"Milton would be very proud of you,." Jacqueline Kovens said sacastically. "You've cleansed your soul, evidently."
The track allegedly was secretly owned in 1971 by Mandel's friends and codefendants - Kovens, W. Dale Hess, Harry W. Rodgers II and William A. Rodgers. Mrs. Polinger's testimony strikes at a major defense of Mandel - that he did not strenuously lobby for the track. Prosecutors say he did lobby, in exchange for more than $350,000 worth of bribes from his associates.
Helen Polinger also testified that her husband's racing commission appointment by the governor had "cost" Polinger some money. Outside the courtroom, she said her husband paid thousands of dollars in political contributions to get the commission appointment.
Helen Polinger's testimony and her credibility were immediately attacked by defense lawyers. She was painted by Mandel's attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, as a vengeful divorcee who sued her husband on grounds of adultery when he was living and sued his estate for more than a million dollars after his death.
"My husband and I were better friends after our separation than we were during our 15 years of marriage," she told Weiner.
She said that her husband received two or three telephone calls from Kovens during the summer of 1971 and that he told her about the conversion.
"My husband was opposed . . . to extra racing days at Marlboro because it was a half-mile track," she said. "After the phone calls . . . he (Polinger) said it seems the governor realy wants the extra days . . . Mr. Kovens has asked for them."
She testified that she remembered these phones calls vividly because "Milton and I had quite a lengthy argument when he voted yes when he was really opposed."
She also said that racing commissioner J. Newton Brewer called her husband regularly and again he told her about the conversations; "Anytime Mr. Brewer called Mr. Polinger he (Brewer) seemed to have always left the governor . . . the conversations always began with 'The governor said this . . . the governor said that.'"
Her testimony as a rebuttal witness for the prosecution followed the conclusion of the defense portion of the corruption trial. Mandel, Hess, and Harry Rodgers have testified in their own behalf but Kovens, William A. Rodgers and Ernest N. Cory Jr., chose not to take the stand.
The trial has been dotted with references to divorces and bitterness between husband and wife. Mandel's divorce from his first wife, Barbara, and his remarriage to Jeanne Dorsey have been central elements in the case as the prosecution sought to show that favors from the codefendants helped Mandel out of financial troubles related to those events.
Milton Polinger testified at the first trial that he had not been lobbied by Mandel or Kovens on the issue of the Marlboro Race Track days. The prosecution charges, in its multicount indictment, that Mandel promoted legislation to benefit that track in 1972 because he knew friends and codefendants were the secret owners.
When the former commissioner testified last November, before a mis-trial was declared. Helen Polinger volunteered to testify for the presecution because, she said, she felt her husband was not telling the truth.
"I've always had a great deal of respect for Milton Polinger . . . He never lied," she said. But when she read in a Washington newspaper what her husband said on the stand in the last trial, she said she telephoned the prosecutors, hoping to give them "some other way of presenting questions so the truth would come out."
Weiner doubted that. "Isn't it a fact you made that telephone call because you were wanting to inflict some sort of harm on your husband who left you?" he asked.
"He did not leave me," she asserted, also denying an allegation made by Weiner that on the day she signed her separation agreement with her former husband she took him aside and asked him to come back to her.
Because Milton Polinger died in the interim between the two trials his testimony was read out loud to the jury in this case. Polinger had been called as a witness by Weiner to confirm that Mandel did not pressure the racing commission not only to accept the extra days for Marlboro but to sponsor the 1972 race-track consolidation bill.
Helen Polinger said that her husband received a number of telephone calls during the summer of 1971 from Kovens and the racing commissioner, who, she said, lobbied her husband to approve the racing days.
Weiner pointed out, however, that if Mrs. Polinger was talking about the 58 extra racing days for Marlboro she must be confused since those were approved in March, 1972. She said that regardless those were the dates that she remembered.
Prosecutors are expected to complete their rebuttal case Thursday. Among the witnesses subpoenaed to testify is Washington Post reporter Edward Walsh. In a 1975 article, Walsh quoted State Sen. Roy Staten on the subject of whether Mandel wanted his 1971 veto of a bill over-riddedn. The bill benefited Marlboro Rack Track.
"I guess it had been decided that the governor didn't have any objection to his veto being overridden," Staten said, according to the Walsh article.
The Washington Post filed a motion seeking to quash the subpoena, which also seeks documents the reporter may possess concerning the interview. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning on The Post's motion.
After 13 weeks of testimony in the first trial, and about two months in the retrial, the Mandel case is expected to go to a jury as early as Monday evening or Tuesday morning.
Opposing lawyers are scheduled to make their final appeals to the jury Saturday and Monday.