Virginia officials are investigating the "mysterious loss" of more than $11,000 in cash that may mistakenly have been tossed out with the trash at a state-run liquor store in the Washington suburbs.

Charles J. Davis, a spokesman for the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said yesterday that the loss, which occurred over the Memorial Day weekend at a Baileys Crossroads store, was the largest ever reported by one of their outlets.

State officials would give no details of how they believed the money disappeared, except to say that the loss, which represented a day's receipts at the store, was "not the result of a robbery." The store, located at 3517 S. Jefferson St., is one of the largest in the state system and last year grossed $1.8 million in sales.

Two ABC employes told a reporter yesterday that they understood the loss occurred after the store manager threw the money into a trash can, fearing a bandit was about to rob the store. The money was, for some unknown reason, left in the can and the employe said, probably taken by trash collectors.

ABC spokesman Davis would neither confirm nor deny the employes' account and Albert Hall, the store manager, could not be reached for comment.

According to the employes, the incident took place Friday, May 25, when Hall began counting the day's receipts and putting the money ($11,188.40) into a bank deposit bag.

The employes said they were told that Hall heard a disturbance in the store lobby and, fearing a robbery attempt, stashed the bank deposit bag into a paper bag and threw both bags into the trash can. Hall did not make the bank deposit that night, the employes said.

The store was closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The trash was picked up early Tuesday morning.

When the assistant store manager arrived Tuesday at the outlet to reopen, he went to a nearby bank to check on Friday's receipts. The teller told him no deposit had been made.

The ABC employe reportedly hurried back to the store and determined that the money had been left in the trash can over the weekend, the employes said. ABC investigators, aided by the Virginia State Police, chased the trash truck and finally caught up with it.

The investigators reportedly sifted through the garbage, finding the ABC store's Friday receipts but no deposit bag. And no money.

"We feel confident that the department will be covered through insurance," ABC spokesman Davis said yesterday. "The investigation is being conducted by our security and enforcement people.Because of certain sensitive elements of the investigation, it would not be proper at this time to say anything further."

No disciplinary action has been taken against any employe and the money still is missing, Davis added.

According to Davis, Fairfax County authorities are aware of the missing money, but are not playing an active role in the investigation.

"Our people are carrying the ball," said Davis.

But the two ABC employes said yesterday that the department had tried to "coverup" the loss because Hall is a 26-year department veteran.

"If there were reason to believe that illegal actions were involved, seniority would have no bearing whatsoever," said David.

Although the department had not previously disclosed Davis called the cover-up charges "absurd."

"No cronyism. No cover-up," he said. "It's not something you'd care to pubicize generally, and particularly we felt it [any publicity] would interfere with the investigation."

Asked how long the probe would continue, Davis replied: "Until we find the money."

The two ABC employes familiar with the investigation said the workers at the Baileys Crossroad store had been given lie detectors tests.