Mark Raymond Vogel, a major Prince George's County developer and a leading figure in the Maryland horse racing industry, was arrested by Fairfax County police Thursday and charged with possession of cocaine.
Police, who stopped Vogel's Corvette about 9:30 p.m. Thursday in the 9300 block of Georgetown Pike near Great Falls, said they were cooperating with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
Vogel, 42, is one of several prominent Prince George's County figures who have been the subject of long federal probes into drug use and political corruption, law enforcement sources said yesterday.
Vogel owns two racetracks, Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill and Delmarva Downs in Ocean City, and is trying to buy a third, the Atlantic City Racetrack in New Jersey. He is also the developer of the Bowie New Town Center, a 345-acre retail, office and residential project.
He has encountered financial difficulties in some of his projects recently, including a scheduled foreclosure sale on a residential development in Upper Marlboro.
Law enforcement sources said that police allegedly found four grams of cocaine in Vogel's car Thursday.
The sources declined to specify how authorities knew Vogel was carrying the cocaine but said he did not buy it from federal or local undercover agents.
Vogel was released on $10,000 bond on a possession of cocaine charge, which is a felony in Virginia. Agents declined to comment on the Vogel arrest. The Drug Enforcement Administration frequently works with local authorities in making drug arrests.
A federal law enforcement source said the probe of Vogel and other prominent figures in Prince George's County development and political circles has been continuing for at least six months.
Law enforcement sources say there are simultaneous federal probes of drug use and political influence peddling by a circle of developers and lawyers in Prince George's County.
Former County Council member James Herl, charged in January with cocaine possession, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the office of U.S. Attorney Breckinridge L. Willcox. He was questioned before a federal grand jury about his knowledge of drug use by others.
Sources said that Herl did not implicate Vogel.
During the same time, federal prosecutors began receiving detailed information about possible corruption in county zoning and land-use decisions.
Some of the same developers' names have surfaced in both investigations, the sources said.
Willcox's office declined to comment.
A former Vogel business associate, who asked that his name not be used, said two federal drug agents questioned him and others close to Vogel as early as last April, indicating that the probe was part of a widespread investigation of county developers. "They had specifics -- names, dates and places. The questions centered on him, but it was obvious they had talked to many people active in this business," the businessman said.
Vogel's attorney, Paul Mark Sandler, declined to comment on the arrest and said he had instructed Vogel to do likewise.
"It would be highly inappropriate to discuss the matter when it is pending in court and is a legal proceeding," Sandler said.
He also declined to comment on allegations that Vogel was a figure in a wide-ranging probe into drug activities.
Vogel could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A leading county philanthropist who sponsored a charity golf tournament yesterday at the Bowie Country Club, Vogel was scheduled to tee off with professional golfer Sam Snead but canceled at the last moment on Sandler's advice.
"We felt that it would be inappropriate for him to interfere with the lofty goals of the event and for his presence to interfere with the purpose of the occasion," Sandler said.
The news of Vogel's arrest sent concern through the racing industry.
Charles Lockhart, executive vice president of Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners' Association, which represents owners, trainers and drivers, said he had received several calls from horsemen anxious about Vogel's arrest.
Bruce Spizler, assistant Maryland attorney general, who specializes in racing, said the state Racing Commission would have the authority to revoke or suspend Vogel's authority to operate a racetrack if he were convicted on the cocaine charge.
Vogel's arrest comes in the midst of escalating financial difficulties for the flamboyant developer, a high-risk investor who built a multimillion-dollar real estate and racetrack empire from scratch during the boom times of the early 1980s.
Born and brought up in Beltsville, he formed Mark Vogel Cos. and made a name for himself as the developer of the $400 million Bowie New Town Center near Routes 301 and 50.
The project, which is partly complete, is to include a gigantic regional shopping mall, offices and residences.
"Mark always had excellent taste in dirt. He could perceive a market far ahead of its time," said developer Danny Colton, who lives near Vogel in Potomac. "And if you're talking about people who could make things happen, he became one of the biggest players in this county."
But worsening economic conditions created problems for some of Vogel's undertakings.
Recently, the Jefferson Bank filed a judgment against Vogel for a defaulted $724,446 loan.
One of his major projects, the Villages of Belmont in Upper Marlboro, is scheduled to be sold in a foreclosure sale next week after Vogel defaulted on a $4.3 million mortgage on the property.
Business associates say the developer recently flew to London to negotiate with Saudi Arabian investors for a multimillion-dollar financing package to support his ambitious real estate and racing ventures.
Vogel has been a major campaign contributor in the county for years. He has supported the campaigns of most County Council members and County Executive Parris N. Glendening.
Recently, he was a principal backer of County Council candidate G. Fred Robinson, a Prince George's County police major who was defeated by incumbent Richard J. Castaldi in the Democratic primary.
Robinson said he was stunned by Vogel's arrest and had no suspicion that Vogel might be involved in drugs. "Clearly, I have a very low tolerance for that kind of activity," he said.
Vogel, a former Peace Corps volunteer, is active in Midnight Basketball, a sports program for urban youths, and Africare, an effort that channels money to African communities to help build dams and underwrite rural development projects.
He also gave money to the Boy's and Girl's Clubs in Bowie and helped raise $25,000 for Bowie High School's communications program.
Staff writers Deneen L. Brown, Jack Nowakowski, Vinnie Perrone, Howard Schneider and Richard Tapscott contributed to this report.