30 years ago, turmoil surrounded Gov. Mandel
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Friday, Sept. 28, 2007
Oct. 7 will mark 30 years since Gov. Marvin Mandel was sentenced to jail after being convicted on 15 federal counts of mail fraud and one count of racketeering. Mandel, a native of Baltimore and a Democrat, was Maryland’s governor at the time.
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Gov. Marvin Mandel visited St. Mary’s during his 1974 re-election campaign. Pictured with him are John Hanson Briscoe, who at the time was speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and would later be named a circuit judge in St. Mary’s; and Mandel’s wife Jeanne, who was born and raised in St. Mary’s and had once served for four years as a Leonardtown commissioner.
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Holding his signature pipe, Gov. Marvin Mandel and his wife Jeanne greet Britain’s Lord Louis Mountbatten, great-grandson of Queen Victoria, during Mountbatten’s visit to Maryland in the 1970s.
But the October 1977 sentencing wasn’t the end of the saga. Mandel did serve time in prison, but was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan. His conviction was eventually overturned.
Mandel’s time in the public spotlight began when he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1952, representing Baltimore city. He was named speaker of the House of Delegates 11 years later and served in that position until 1969.
In 1969, Gov. Spiro Agnew (R) was sworn in as vice president of the United States, a post he won as Richard Nixon’s running mate in the 1968. There was no lieutenant governor in Maryland at that time, and so the Maryland General Assembly selected Mandel to be Agnew’s successor as governor.
In 1970, and again in 1974, Mandel was elected and re-elected to the job.
Three years into his first elected term in office, Mandel announced that he and his wife, Barbara, had separated. In making the announcement Mandel said he was ‘‘in love with another woman, Mrs. Jeanne Dorsey, and I intend to marry her.”
Jeanne Dorsey, whose maiden name was Blackistone, was a St. Mary’s native and was at the time married to Walter Dorsey, a once and future state’s attorney for St. Mary’s. From 1968 to 1972 Jeanne Dorsey served as a Leonardtown commissioner. In 1972 she chose to not run for re-election.
In 1974, Mandel divorced his first wife and he and Jeanne were married shortly thereafter.
In 1975, one year into Mandel’s second term in office, mail fraud and racketeering indictments were handed up against Mandel and five other men.
The indictments alleged that, in 1972, Mandel had used his office to give favored treatment to his co-defendants, who owned the Marlboro Race Track in Prince George’s County.
On New Year’s Eve 1971, the co-defendants purchased the race track. Marlboro, like all of Maryland’s race tracks, was state regulated. It was allotted 18 racing days a year. Wanting to expand their allowable race dates, the owners approached Mandel and asked for his help.
Mandel, who until then had been a staunch advocate of strict horse racing regulations, dropped his opposition to a bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly that would increase Marlboro’s racing days from 18 to 36. On Jan. 12, 1972, the bill passed. Two months later Mandel lobbied the Maryland General Assembly, urging them unsuccessfully to increase the number of racing days, this time from 36 to 94.
Behind the scenes, prosecutors said, Mandel was also helping the Marlboro owners acquire interests in other racetracks around the state.
In return for his help, Mandel was given cash and other valuables from his friends, including expensive clothes and jewelry that the track owners paid for, prosecutors said. They also charged that Mandel received interest in a new Maryland waterfront development called Ray’s Point, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and in an investment company.
Mandel and his co-defendants went on trial in Baltimore in September 1975. But in early December, U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt declared a mistrial. The jury, he said, had been contaminated by prejudicial publicity about two arrests that had been made that were related to attempted jury tampering.
Just hours after news of one arrest was made public, the jurors were sequestered. Two days later, while watching a movie on television, at least half the jury saw a news report that described the charges against the men.
Charles Edward Neiswender, 51, of Cinaminson, N.J. was arrested in early November but the arrest had been kept secret for nearly a month. Neiswender had allegedly approached Mandel’s attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, and told Weiner he could fix the jury to acquit the governor. His arrest was not made public until Dec. 2, two days after a 67-year-old Pikesville furniture salesman, Walter Weikers, was charged with attempting to bribe a juror.
The second Mandel trial began June 1, 1977, and lasted nearly three months. U.S. District Judge Robert Taylor presided over the second trial.
On Aug. 21, 1977, the jury found Mandel guilty. He was convicted of accepting more than $350,000 from his friends. During the trial testimony was offered alleging that said some of the money Mandel received was used in the divorce settlement he had negotiated with his first wife.
On Oct. 7, 1977, Mandel stood before Judge Taylor for sentencing. Jeanne Mandel sat quietly in the courtroom, as she had nearly every day since the trial began.
Earlier in the week Mandel and his wife had vacated the governor’s mansion in Annapolis and moved into a rented home near the state capital.
For nearly an hour Weiner argued for leniency for his client, referring to Mandel’s health problems, which his lawyer claimed were ‘‘a direct result of the intolerable pressures that this case presented.”
Mandel also suffered from having ‘‘every personal detail of his life opened up for the world to see,” the attorney added.
Federal prosecutor Barnet Skolnik remarked that there were some defendants in the courtroom who deserved leniency. ‘‘Unfortunately, Mr. Weiner does not represent one of those defendants.”
‘‘This case has troubled me, troubled me,” said Judge Taylor at the sentencing hearing. ‘‘I think about him as governor, I think about him losing his governorship. I think about how he started out as a struggling lawyer. I can’t tell you how much I am troubled by this case. I hope you will understand, I know you will understand my responsibility.”
Taylor dismissed two counts of mail fraud against Mandel and one count of racketeering, but upheld 15 counts of mail fraud and one charge of extortion. Taylor had already indicated he was not going to impose any monetary fines on Mandel.
He then sentenced Maryland’s governor to four years in prison. At the same moment, Mandel was stripped of the governorship, effectively ending his political career.
‘‘I’ve spent over half my life in public life while serving the state of Maryland and the people of Maryland I love,” Mandel said. ‘‘Now my whole life is in disarray and I must start anew.”
‘‘I have great sympathy for you,” said Taylor in response. ‘‘I feel sorry you’re in the position you’re in. You have many, many good qualities. I don’t say this harshly, but I think you made some serious mistakes.”
As Mandel walked out of the courtroom — he remained free on bond pending any appeals — Jeanne Mandel was by her husband’s side, gently rubbing his back as they walked, comforting him.
Mandel’s attorneys quickly appealed the conviction. They won a brief victory when the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it. But the appeal was reheard and the court of appeals reversed its own decision and upheld the conviction.
During the appeal process Mandel remained free, but he eventually went to prison. He served 19 months of his sentence in a federal prison before being pardoned by President Ronald Reagan.
On Nov. 12, 1987, Judge Frederic N. Smalkin of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland — the same court where Mandel had been tried — overturned Mandel’s conviction.
Although Smalkin did not dispute the evidence that had been presented at Mandel’s trial, he insisted the prosecutors at the time ‘‘had stretched their interpretation of federal mail fraud and racketeering laws past the breaking point to bring Mandel to trial for what were really state crimes,” said a 1987 Time Magazine report.
Today Mandel, now 88, lives in Anne Arundel County and practices law in Annapolis. He has been on the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland since 2003. Jeanne Blackistone Dorsey Mandel died on Oct. 6, 2001.
E-mail Paul C. Leibe at email@example.com.