Developer Mark Vogel said he has used cocaine sporadically for more than a decade, most often in the company of beautiful women.
During a 2 1/2-hour interview at his company's Bowie headquarters last week, Vogel, 42, talked publicly for the first time about his guilty plea to cocaine possession, his 14-year "off-and-on" affair with the drug and the continuing criminal investigation focused upon him.
"It would be once a month, once every other month, and I would be very guilty about it and I would say, 'You have to stop,' " Vogel said of his drug use. "I would find out if I had a few drinks, a few shots of tequila and there would be a pretty girl there, I would do it."
Vogel denied that he has a cocaine habit or that he ever used the drug to consummate real estate deals. Rather, he said, his problem was "the girls." The night of his arrest, Vogel said, his primary intent was to spend the evening with a woman with whom he had a relationship.
"I was just weak, just not being strong enough to say no," said Vogel, who is separated from his third wife. "I never have been able to deal with stress, the loss of a loved one, a divorce. Those are the things I couldn't deal with personally. It had nothing to do with my money or my power."
Vogel's arrest on Sept. 13 and subsequent guilty plea helped precipitate the unraveling of a real estate empire that stretches from Northern Virginia to Maryland's Eastern Shore and exposed an unseen side of a man who personified the Washington area's frenetic real estate market in the 1980s.
In the past decade, Vogel rose to become one of the most prominent developers in the Washington area, with interests in major projects such as PortAmerica and Bowie New Town Center, as well ownership of two Maryland horse racing tracks.
During the interview, Vogel, who amassed racetracks and land holdings once worth an estimated $1 billion, portrayed himself as an innocent with little knowledge of the workings of the real estate deals that his company engineered. He also cast himself as the victim of a federal "witch hunt" whose worst crime was recreational cocaine use.
Vogel's characterization of himself was markedly different from earlier portrayals in which he called himself the "Donald Trump of Prince George's County" and "Mark the Shark," and named his helicopter -- since seized by the federal government as part of a drug investigation -- "Air Shark."
"The government wanted to get me," Vogel said. "I was stupid."
Federal law enforcement sources have said for months that their investigation of drug use by Vogel intersected with a broader probe of alleged corruption among a circle of lawyers, developers and politicians, and that they are investigating some of Vogel's business deals.
Vogel, who said he is innocent of any corruption allegations, said he was told by federal law enforcement agents as early as last spring that he would be indicted on "a major criminal violation" other than cocaine possession. Agents from the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI have joined the probe, he said. But, Vogel said, he has not been told and does not know what the offense is.
Law enforcement sources confirmed that several agencies are investigating Vogel's business dealings.
During the interview, Vogel, who was raised in a middle-class Prince George's County home, said he believed he came under federal scrutiny because of his rapid financial success. His current net worth, he said, is "anywhere between zero and $50 million."
"Money, real estate, racetracks. A fluke," Vogel said. "I never thought it would happen to me. All of a sudden, it was one deal and then another and I made all this money and I'm thinking, 'Good God . . . . I better get some people in here who know what they're doing, because I don't.' "
The speed with which Vogel amassed a real estate empire was surpassed only by the speed with which it began to collapse last fall, as one of his many partnerships filed for protection from creditors under federal bankruptcy laws and several notes became delinquent. Vogel lost his flagship corporate headquarters building in the Bowie New Town Center after the lender foreclosed on an $11.2 million loan.
Vogel placed Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill and Delmarva Downs near Ocean City, Md., on the market, saying he needed the equity to bail out other projects. On Friday, a bank that had made an $11 million loan on the tracks began foreclosure proceedings.
Vogel blames his business woes on the negative publicity surrounding his arrest, playing down an area real estate slump and the fact that payments on several properties were delinquent before Sept. 13.
Vogel is at a loss to explain what he called the "stupidity" of the events of Sept. 13. He said he had known for almost two years that federal investigators were questioning friends and associates about his drug use; he suspected that he was being followed, that his office was bugged.
Yet, on Sept. 13, he dined with a friend who was under indictment for drug offenses and he agreed to go with a girlfriend to obtain cocaine. The girlfriend, Vogel alleges, set him up.
"I went and got cocaine that night," Vogel said. "How much would I give for that night never to have happened."
The public Mark Vogel was a man of enviable success, purchasing two racetracks, negotiating to buy the Baltimore Orioles, amassing thousands of acres of land in Maryland and Virginia, socializing with the area's political elite. Married, and with two small children, he lived in Potomac, drove expensive cars and gave lavishly to charities, some of them active in Africa, where he had been a Peace Corps volunteer.
In private, though, Vogel, who separated from his third wife about two years ago, used cocaine and alcohol, often in the company of beautiful young women. Sex and drugs were, he said, his antidote to the stress of a meteoric rise and a hectic existence.
Vogel said he has used cocaine since his late twenties, and with at least 10 people over the past five years, "almost all of them women." His cocaine use increased dramatically, he said, when he was trying to cope with his brother's illness and death from AIDS in January 1988.
"I guess what happened is I was always the type of person who would have a couple of drinks and somebody would say, 'Mark, have a couple of lines,' and I would do it," Vogel said. "I was just weak, just not . . . strong enough to say no."
On the night of his arrest, Vogel said that he invited the woman to join him and Carter Boehm, a Virginia real estate broker who was indicted in June in connection with an alleged scheme to trade machine guns for a kilogram of cocaine, for dinner at the Prime Rib restaurant. During dinner, the woman, whom Vogel declined to name, suggested that they get cocaine and go to Boehm's house to use it, Vogel said.
He said he agreed to call a friend who lives in The Roberta apartment building on upper Connecticut Avenue NW and who frequently supplied the drug.
At the apartment building, Vogel said, he was nervous and refused to accept the packet of cocaine, which the woman slipped into his pocket as he was getting into his car.
Shortly before they reached Boehm's house on Georgetown Pike, Vogel said, the woman, who was following him in a separate car, flashed her headlights and law enforcement agents stopped his Corvette. Vogel said he believes that the woman was cooperating with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"It was the girl. I wanted to be with the girl," Vogel said. "She was bad for me and I was bad for her."
The woman, who spoke on the condition that her name not be used, denied that she set up Vogel. She said Vogel initiated the dinner and that it was his idea to get the cocaine, and she denied placing the cocaine in Vogel's pocket at the apartment building.
Before his arrest, Vogel said he met with federal investigators and told them about his occasional, recreational drug use.
"I was being honest. I told the U.S. attorney that I did cocaine, many times. I'm very sorry about it. And they said, 'Oh, no. That's not what we're investigating. We have better things to investigate. This is a major investigation.' "
Law enforcement sources have said that Vogel consistently denied cocaine use before his arrest.
Federal law enforcement sources have said that they are investigating several business deals involving Vogel, among them the purchase of 110 acres of waterfront property in Crisfield, Md. The deal was brokered by Maryland House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. and his son, who earned a $100,000 commission on the deal. State prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is conducting a separate probe of Mitchell's personal finances and legislative activities. Mitchell has defended the Crisfield sale as a "straight real estate deal." He said he has cooperated with the state investigation and has done nothing wrong.
During the interview, Vogel said that he had little personal contact with lawmakers, instead hiring others to present his case.
"I had no impact with these people," Vogel said. "I am a real estate developer. I don't play the political game."