Developer and Maryland harness track owner Mark R. Vogel pleaded guilty in a Virginia court yesterday to possession of cocaine, but as a first-time offender he was put on probation and given the chance to cleanse his record if he can stay out of trouble for the next year.
"I hope this closes an unhappy chapter in Mr. Vogel's life," said his lawyer, Paul Mark Sandler. "He feels he can put this behind him now and move forward."
Mr. Vogel, a wealthy developer with commercial and residential real estate holdings throughout Maryland and the Washington area and also owner of Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill and Delmarva Downs near Ocean City, pleaded guilty to possession of 3.97 ounces of cocaine.
The drugs, packaged in four paper bags, were discovered under the seat of his 1990 Chevrolet Corvette after he was stopped by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents, who had followed him into Virginia from the District of Columbia the night of Sept. 13, according to a statement of facts presented in court.
But under a Virginia statute similar to Maryland's "probation before judgment" law, Fairfax County Circuit Judge F. Bruce Bach "withheld the finding of guilt, even though there was enough evidence to show guilt, so [Mr. Vogel] could go through active probation," said Mark C. Simmons, the assistant commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted the case.
That means Mr. Vogel will have to report regularly to a probation officer and submit to periodic drug testing, Mr. Simmons said. If he remains drug-free and stays out of other trouble, the case will be dismissed Nov. 29, 1991.
"If he screws up, he doesn't come back and get a trial. He's already pleaded guilty," Mr. Simmons said, adding that all the judge would have to do is sentence him.
Mr. Vogel also has lost possession of his Corvette and a 1980 Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, both of which were confiscated by federal authorities because of their alleged use in carrying drugs.
"As far as I know, it is a simple possession case," Mr. Simmons said, adding that he knew nothing of allegations that the arrest was part of some broader, federal probe into political corruption involving developers.
Mr. Sandler said Mr. Vogel "hopes the public realizes that the rumors which spread about him after this incident, concerning his alleged involvement in political corruption and the sale of drugs for machine guns, are utterly without merit."
The U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore declined to comment yesterday or even to acknowledge whether it is investigating Mr. Vogel.
Mr. Sandler emphasized that the plea agreement means Mr. Vogel has not been convicted of any crime, and that his being placed on probation may have no effect on his ownership of the Maryland tracks.
Dr. Allan C. Levey, a Racing Commission member, said if there is no conviction, "there is no action that really the Maryland Racing Commission would take except to note that he is on probation for a year."