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Colorful Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel Dies at 95

Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, a Democrat and one of the most colorful and consequential governors in his state's history, dies at 95.
Gov. Marvin Mandel, accompanied by his wife, Jeanne, is seen walking to the federal courthouse in Baltimore in this 2001 file photo. Assoicated Press

Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, who served 19 months in federal prison for mail fraud and racketeering, a conviction later overturned, has died at 95, according to his family.

Mandel, a Democrat and one of the most colorful and consequential governors in his state's history, was chosen by the state's House of Delegates to succeed Spiro Agnew as governor when Agnew became Richard Nixon's vice president in 1969.

At the time, the state had no lieutenant governor — a shortcoming that Mandel later remedied by pushing through a constitutional amendment.

An enormously popular and powerful politician, Mandel was re-elected in 1974 with two-thirds of the vote, even after leaving his wife for another woman whom he later married.

The end of Mandel's first marriage become public spectacle after his furious wife Barbara "Bootsie" Mandel, Maryland's then first lady, locked Mandel out of the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis.

Mandel's sentence for mail fraud for his involvement in helping friends benefit from a racetrack deal was commuted in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan.

In 1987 the Supreme Court, in another case, ruled that the use of the mail fraud statute used to prosecute Mandel was unconstitutional. As a result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturned his conviction in 1988.

At a symposium in 2007, the prosecutors and defense lawyers re-argued the case: Mandel's lead attorney, Arnold Weiner, accused federal prosecutors of stretching the mail fraud statute to indict and convict him out of frustration at never being able to prosecute former Vice President Spiro Agnew.

But former prosecutor Barnet Skolnik said Mandel was given more than $300,000 in business interests, real estate deals and clothing in return for using his influence to secretly benefit his friends.

"This was bribery," Skolnik said at the 2007 forum, calling it a "huge, very complicated, very sophisticated and very, very well-hidden bribery."

Maryland's Republican Governor Larry Hogan issued a statement late Sunday, saying in part, "The state of Maryland lost not only a former governor but also a truly great leader and someone countless people thought of as a friend, including myself."