In early 1977, a Southeast Washington doctor told his medical assistant that he kept as much as $50,000 in cash in a camera case locked in a desk drawer in his office. The assistant passed the word on to Vicki Lynn Hepner, 24, who then worked as the doctor's receptionist, according to records in D.C. Superior Court.

On Oct. 18 the assistant took the doctor to lunch while Hepner, wearing gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, entered the office with a duplicate key, picked the lock on the desk drawer, and took three envelopes marked $10,000" from the camera case, according to a statement Hepner eventually gave the D.C. police.

When she got home, Hepner said in the statement, she found $29,200 in the envelopes. Since she had taken the "risk," Hepner told police, she decided to "hold back" on some of the money and gave the assistant $9,000, according to cout records.

During the next five days, Hepner buried the money three different times, in two parks and under a shed in the backyard of her grandparents' Alexandria home, according to her statement.

When police began investigating the doctor's loss, the assistant, Ann Cleaver, 38, surrendered to police and returned $8,900 of the $9,000 she said she received, according to court records. Eventually, she pleadedguilty in Superior Court to grand larceny, paid the extra $100 she owed and was given a suspended sentence by Judge John R. Hess who placed her on two years unsupervised probation. At the time of the incident, Cleaver lived at 5359 Quincy P1., Hyattsville, the records said.

After consulting a friend who is a police officer, Hepner, who lives at 181 Joliet St. SW, turned herself in to police, returned $15,900 and eventually pleaded guilty to burglary. But by the court's calculation, discounting $500 in dispute, she still owed $3,80.

At Hepner's sentencing yesterday, her lawyer said she could not come up with the money and asked the court to allow her to make monthly payments of $65."I'd do anything to prevent going to jail," Hepner, her voice shaking, told Judge Hess.

The judge was not convinced that she could make the payments. So he sentenced her to serve four months in prison and five years on probation, during which she will still have to make restitution.