St. Martin's Press said yesterday it is recalling 70,000 copies of a George W. Bush biography from bookstores after confirming the author served time in prison in a car-bombing case.

Spokesman John Murphy said all copies of "Fortunate Son" would be destroyed now that the publisher's investigation has verified that author J.H. Hatfield was a convicted felon. He said St. Martin's had "pretty much nailed it down" by matching Hatfield's Social Security number to that of the ex-con and obtaining a mug shot from Hatfield's 1988 conviction for paying a hit man to attempt to kill his ex-boss. The picture, he said, was of the man who had been in New York to promote the book.

On Wednesday, said Murphy, "we confronted him directly about the allegations in the Dallas Morning News and he denied it. He said it was some other person. We found out it was indeed true. That led us to question the veracity of the information in the book."

"Fortunate Son" stirred controversy because it alleged, based on three unnamed sources with no corroboration, that the Republican presidential candidate had been arrested for cocaine use in 1972 and had the record expunged by a judge in exchange for community service.

The Bush campaign had dismissed the book as fiction, and the Texas governor said Thursday, after the report on Hatfield's past, it is clear the purported arrest was "ridiculous."

The Morning News reported yesterday that, according to court records, Hatfield also pleaded guilty in 1992 to embezzling thousands of dollars in federal housing money. The intended victim in the car bombing was a witness in that case, the paper said.

On Thursday, St. Martin's said it would not ship the 20,000 copies of the biography in storage but that booksellers were free to sell the 70,000 copies already in stores. The book quickly was among the 50 top-selling books on Now, however, the publisher is demanding them back and will take the financial losses involved.

Hatfield claimed to have written for a number of Texas publications that now say they never heard of him. Murphy said Hatfield was given a contract on the basis of his two entertainment books--one of them about "Star Trek" actor Patrick Stewart--along with a "reputable agent" and a proposal showing "solid research."

"There was really no reason to question it," he said.