The former accountant for the city's Neighborhood Legal Services Program pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court yesterday to one count of embezzlement after the government alleged in court that it could prove the man stole close to $38,000 from the program through a check fraud scheme.

In court papers, the U.S. Attorney's Office contended that from October, 1974, to June, 1977, William A. Hughes, 28, forged checks drawn on program accounts and made false entries in the group's books in order to conceal the scheme.

Hughes, who lives at 3314 18th St. NE, was dismissed from his $16,500-a-year job in September, according to Willie E. Cook, the program's executive director. Hughes was employed by Legal Services for about 3 1/2 years, Cook said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian W. Shaughnessy told the court yesterday that he could prove that as part of the scheme Hughes cashed 91 checks on various program accounts. There was no disclosure in the court record about whether or how the money was spent.

Judge Fred L. McIntyre scheduled sentencing for March 14 for Hughes, who was released on his personal recognizance. The embezzlement charges is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $1,000 fine, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Established in 1964, the Neighborhood Legal Services Program is a private, nonprofit organization that provides legalaid to the city's poor in noncriminal matters.