The FBI has been asking questions about the construction of a $2.5 million clubhouse at Laurel Raceway, according to a Howard County official who said agents interviewed him three times in the past month.
M. Robert Gemmill, the county's director of inspections and permits, said the agents were interested in learning how the clubhouse was completed in time for the 1977 harness season (June 30-Oct. 11) in light of supply delivery problems with steel.
Gemmill also said the agents wanted to know if county inspectors had been less than diligent during the construction and if he had seen anyone "suspicious" around the track, carrying guns or driving large cars.
A spokesman for the FBI office in Silver Spring, which is handling the case, refused to comment.
Gemmill also said the FBI seemed to be trying to discover whether there had been coercion or intimidation to get the construction done on time.
Gemmill said he did not think the eight months it took to construct the clubhouse was unusual. He noted that construction workers labored around the clock seven days a week.
The difficulty in getting steel caused the firing of one contractor, Gemmill said. A new contractor was hired and got the steel "in a short time," Gemmill said.
Gemmill said there were some construction "deficiencies," but that there is "nothing wrong with (the clubhouse's structural integrity." The building is safe, he said.
The deficiencies were the result of "sloppiness," Gemmill said, and were being corrected. Laurel Raceway's general manager, Frank Bruno, said the deficiencies -- such as the manner of welding -- have been eliminated.
Bruno also said, "None of the 'passing of money' took place. There was just an all-round effort to get the (construction) job done."
In another development concerning Laurel Raceway yesterday, Ben Schwartz, chairman of the Harness Board of the Maryland Racing Commission, said a preliminary track audit showed discrepancies "maybe up to or in excess of $1 million."
Schwartz told the Baltimore Sun that track's racing license could be suspended unless "they come up with a clean audit." The Baltimore Evening Sun reported that the harness board has requested a meeting with the state attorney general.
Lawrence S. Greenwald, an attorney for the track, declined to comment.
Laurel is also facing other legal problems related to the construction of the clubhouse. Reportedly, 17 lawsuits and petitions for mechanics' liens have been filed, most of them by sub-contractors.
In addition, Rosecroft Raceway filed a $100,000 suit alleging that Laurel Raceway failed to meet the conditions of the lease under which it held its 1975 and 1976 meetings while the clubhouse was being completed. The former clubhouse was destroyed by an arsonist in March, 1976.
The management and major stockholders of Laurel Raceway are from New Jersey. The controlling interest is held by Daniel J. Rizk, a realtor who is a partner in the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City.