Maryland Acting Gov. Blair Lee III said yesterday the Pallottine priest who admitted mishandling more than $2 million in charitable funds should have gone to jail instead of receiving conditional probation as part of a plea bargaining agreement with the state.

Lee said the agreement negotiated by State's Attorney General Francis B. (Bill) Burch "seemed like a pretty soft treatment" for the Rev. Guido John Carcich, the fund-raising mastermind of the Pallottine Fathers religious order, who pleaded guilty last week to a charge of mishandling the funds.

"I personally feel a period of confinement would not have been inappropriate, assuming (Carcich) was found guilty," Lee said in response to questions at his weekly press conference. "As a layman, I have trouble understanding the whole system of plea bargaining."

Lee's comments follow more than a week of angry public reaction to the plea bargain, in which Carcich was placed on 18 months probation requiring him to minister to the needs of state prisoners for a year while living in a Pallottine parish house in Baltimore at night.

Burch conceded this week that "the public is upset" and said he fears the controversial case will endanger his campaign for governor. He contended in an interview Tuesday that the Public misunderstands the case, and insisted that the plea bargain resulted in a "more meaningful" penalty than could have been achieved through a trial.

Lee, also running for governor in the Democratic primary with Burch and four other candidates, said he personally likes Burch, and "if I could defend him in that position (the Pallottine case) I would. But I can't."00