A 29-year-old temporary clerical worker at the Interior Department Recreation Association has been arrested and charged with allegedly cashing for her own use checks intended for the association.

Investigators said Ernestine L. Garner of 4409 Illinois Ave, NW may have obtained up to $15,000 through the scheme.

Garner was arrested Thursday and charged with "uttering" - illegal cashing of a check - shortly before she made what investigators said had become a weekly trip to the Home Federal Savings and Loan Association branch at Georgia and Alaska Avenues NW. Investigators said the purpose of the trip was to cash checks that the suspect allegedly had taken from her employer.

Garner, who had served two years in prison in connection with a previous guilty plea for mail theft and forgery, had convinced the savings and loan institution that she was on official business for her employer during the weekly trips, investigators said.

She was quoted as saying that the Interior Recreation Association had opened a discount store in the area of the savings and loan and that she would make weekly cash withdrawals for its use, according to police. For the last six weeks, withdrawals totaled as much as $1,000 each, investigators said.

The association has an account with the savings and loan's main office, but does not officially use the Georgia Avenue branch, investigator added.

Garner was hired by the agency after first having worked there through a temporary hiring firm, investigators said. The group was apparently unaware of her criminal record, investigators said.

D.C. police Dets. William M. Prudden Jr. and Jerry Woofter, of the check and fraud unit, said the alleged theft was discovered after the association's computer detected irregularities in certain insurance payment accounts.

Andrew Brown, administrator of the association, said that once the computer signaled the irregularities, a manual investigation begin that led to Garner's arrest.

He said Garner, who had worked at the association for slightly more than two months, was doing "simple clerical work" that gave her access to financial data. He said he was "really shocked" when he learned of her past criminal record. But he said he had been told since by police that it would have been unlikely under current governmental privacy laws that he could have learned of the record unless she had told him.

Government recreation associations provide members with various benefits, including insurance plans, travel charters and discount merchandise, as well as sponsoring outside activities such as sports teams and picnics, Brown said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William S. Bock of the fraud division said the investigation into the alleged theft is continuing.