The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ended Marvin Mandel's four-year legal struggle by refusing to review the political corruption convictions of the former Maryland governor and five codefendants.

Mandel and his associates are expected to surrender within 30 days to begin serving prison terms: four years for Mandel, Irvin Kovens, W. Dale Hess and Harry Rodgers III; 20 months for William Rodgers, and 18 months for Ernest Cory.

"What they can do to me now cannot beas bad as what they have done to me," said Mandel after hearing the news. "I guess you get to the point when you're glad something's been resolved."

Mandel's lawyer, Arnold Weiner, said he would ask the judge who presided at the trial to consider suspending or reducing the sentences. The men will be eligible for parole from the time they enter prison, but are unlikely to get parole consideration during the first 120 days of their sentences.

The court's action, which was issued without comment or dissent, completed a cycle in Maryland's colorful but corrupt political history. The investigation of former governor and U.S. vice president Spiro T. Agnew, and in turn generated convictions of two powerful county executives, dozens of state contractors and a coterie of hangers-on.

Most of those convicted once were part of the "Mandel machine," dominant in Maryland politics for a decade, with Mandel, Kovens, Hess and Harry Rodgers at the top. Because of the scandals, most now have been supplanted by a different breed of "reform oriented politician.

Mandel, a Baltimore lawyer and former speaker of the House of Delegates, was governor for 10 years. He first was chosen in 1969 by the legislature to replace Agnew, who became vice president, and twice was elected to the office by overwhelming margins.

In August 1977, a U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore convicted Mandel, Hess, Kovens, Cory and the Rodgers brothers on 15 counts of mail fraud and one count of racketeering. The charges stemmed from manipulations to increase the value of Prince George's County's Marlboro race track, owned secretly in 1972 and 1973 by Mandel's five codefendants.

Mandel helped the track obtain extra racing days, allocated by the state and worth millions of dollars in extra profits. The track's secret owners, in exchange, showered the governor with money, jewelry, vacations and financial assistance in completing his divorce and remarriage.

The federal prosecutors who tried the case, Barnet D. Skolnik, Ronald Liebman and Daniel Hurson, never proved a direct link between the gifts and the race track manipulations. For that and other reasons, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the convictions on Jan. 11, 1979, allowing Mandel's reinstatement as governor for the brief but triumphal days remaining in his term.

Six months later, however, the full appeals court overruled the panel, restoring the guilty verdicts and sending the case to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal.

Mandel's Supreme Court plea attacked that full appeals court decision because it came on a tie vote. The former governor's lawyers argued that only a plurality or majority vote was sufficient.

The appeals of the codefendants also relied on claimed defects in their trial, in jury instructions, in the way the mail fraud and racketeering laws were used against them and in the evidence.

The justices found none of these arguments worthy of consideration yesterday. They rejected the appeals routinely along with dozens of others they deny each week.

The prison sentences and fines ($40,000 for Hess, Kovens and the Rodgers brothers, nothing for Mandel and Cory) had been postponed pending the Supreme Court's action.

A U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman said the selection of a prison was three to five days off. Most first-offender, white-collar criminals from the Washington area have served their time at a minimum security camp at Allenwood, Pa.

Mandel and his friends have been preoccupied with race tracks, an industry that has been a source of constant scandal.

The Marlboro track was relatively worthless in 1971 because of its rundown facilities. It also had the fewest racing days of any major Maryland track because its owners carried little political clout.

In the year's session of the Maryland General Assembly, however, the Marlboro owners were able to win approval of additional racing days. The value of the track soared. Then it plummeted again on May 21, 1971, because Mandel vetoed the bill adding the days.

The owners were eager to sell the track when Hess, Kovens and the Rodgers brothers made an offer. Mandel's friends, because of the governor's veto, got it at bargain-basement prices, concealing their ownership behind false names and documents designed by lawyer Cory.

At the beginning of the next legislative session, Mandel's friends lobbied behind the scenes to get the governor's earlier veto overriden.It was. The track received the extra racing days denied it by the veto before Mandel's associates bought in.

The track's value skyrocketed. The secret owners then negotiated to obtain even more days from the legislature and to sell their shares to the owners of the Bowie and Laurel tracks for massive profits.

That scheme failed when rumors of the true ownership circulated in Annapolis. Mandel's political enemies delayed the bill approving the windfall until adjournment. Hess, Kovens and the Rodgers brothers sold the Marlboro shares anyway, merging the track with Bowie.

Mandel has said he was unaware of what was going on all this time. He was, it turned out later, busying himself with a secret romance and sinking deeper and deeper into financial need because of it.

At every opportunity, Mandel would scurry in his limousine from Annapolis to St. Mary's County to visit the woman he told friends he loved -- Jeanne Dorsey -- and then rush back to be with his wife of 32 years, Barbara Mandel.

The trips to southern Maryland turned into weekends in Florida or Puerto Rico, expensive gifts to keep his wife happy and a life style which a $25,000-a-year governor hardly could afford.

According to trial testimony, Hess, Kovens and the Rodgers brothers came to the rescue. They paid for the trips, for new clothing, for jewelry for Barbara and they cut him in on two valuable real estate deals.

They also helped him out when he left Barbara Mandel in July 1973. She refused to leave the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis until she could work ot a lucrative divorce and separation settlement, financed largely by the codefendants.

The total take, prosecutors said, came to about $350,000.

Mandel married Jeanne Dorsey in 1974. A year later he was indicted.

The convictions came in August 1977, after Mandel's second trial. A first effort ended in mistrial because of publicity concerning jury-tampering attempts.

Just before the retrial Mandel suffered what his doctors described as a "minor stroke" which delayed the proceeding and forced the governor to take leave from his office.

State historians, who have records suggesting contract shenanigans in the construction of one of the state's first one-room schoolhouses say that Maryland's tradition of scandal began in colonial times. In this century, however, few investigations have cut so deeply into the power structure as the federal probe of Mandel and his associates. Kovens, a gravel-voiced millionaire from Northwest Baltimore, had been the focal point of all statewide Democratic campaign fund raising in the state for three decades. Few candidates, whether running for president or for Baltimore city council, dared run without consulting him because he could cut off the money as well as he could raise it.

The millions he raised were distributed around the Baltimore area to precinct captains for election day doles of $15 or $20 to loyalists of Democratic clubs. The small handouts held the clubs together and the clubs kept the Mandel-Kovens organization intact.

Kovens and Mandel were friends at young men in Northwest Baltimore. They became political allies in the 1950s as "reformers" against a rival organization controlled by the late Jack Pollack.

Hess had been a relatively inconsequential member of the House of Delegates from rural Harford County until he met Mandel in the legislature in the 1960s. Known primarily as a jokester then, Hess was useful to the Speaker of the House Marvin Mandel who was seeking an expansion of his legislative power. Hess has said that he in turn admired the savvy ways of Mandel and attached himself to the senior politican in order to improve his own clout.

Mandel ultimately made him House majority leader and, it was joked, official bearer of the Mandel briefcase.

The Rodgers brothers were close allies of then-Gov. J. Millard Tawes. Their company, Tidewater Insurance Inc., became a funnel for the distribution of state contracts under Tawes. When Tawes left office he became Tidewater's board chairman.

When power passed from Tawes to Agnew and then to Mandel, Hess, by then the governor's close friend, accepted an invitation to also join the board of Tidewater Insurance which extended its sphere from insurance to state engineering contracts and construction.

Hess, the Rodgers brothers and Kovens then formed a loose and sometimes uncomfortable alliance at the top of the Mandel political organization.Cory, a Laurel attorney, had done legal work for Tidewater Insurance and was brought in by the others to handle the Marlboro race track paper work.

It was the Tidewater Insurance Co. which first attracted the attention of U.S. prosecutors. They began looking for traces of kickbacks similar to those accepted by Agnew in exchange for the award of state contracts. Finding none they turned to Marlboro race track.

Following the convictions Maryland voters elected an archenemy of the Mandel organization, Harry Hughes, as governor.