Three years ago, Garrett Kirwin was king of the High Roller Sting, riding around in Cadillacs with a big wad of bills in his pocket, buying stolen jewelry and antiques from fences up and down the East Coast.

Today he's twiddling his thumbs as the assistant town administrator of Cheverly, waiting out a lawsuit over whether he should be allowed to lead the town's police force of six officers and a part-time crossing guard.

After 29 years on the Washington police force, Kirwin, 54, had qualified for a full pension, and he, like many other high-ranking officers this year and last, used the opportunity to move on to smaller fields.

"I've always wanted to come to a small town," Kirwin said. "I've had enough of those (big city police force) pressures."

Still, there is a touch of wistfulness in Kirwin's voice as he recalls the D.C. High Roller operation, an undercover probe of fencing operations that he said led to 210 indictments and recovered $200 million in stolen property.

"We weren't just a "sting" operation that broke up street thieves, honey," Kirwin said. "We only dealt with high-level fencing. We bought from only high-class burglars and we put ourselves up as high-spending, high rollers.

"It was funny having these Cadillacs and fancy things, but now I'm back to the old car and hamburgers," he said.

The Cheverly chief's job, if Kirwin gets it, pays $16,000 a year. He also is entitled to a D.C. police pension. That pension could amount to as much as $22,000 a year because he retired before Oct. 1 and qualified for full cost-of-living benefits.

When Kirwin signed on for the job as police chief of the 1.3 mile square jurisdiction in Prince George's County, he thought an occasional burglary would be big stuff.

But life in suburbia has turned out to be even calmer than he expected.

After Kirwin was sworn in July 12, a sergeant on the force who thought he deserved the job filed suit to block the big city cop from moving in.

Kirwin was ordered to stay away from police headquarters until the case is heard, and for the last two weeks, the would-be chief has found himself in a job created just for him: assistant town administrator.

"Sounds pretty, doesn't it?" he said. "I'm just waiting this out. I'm doing a lot of reading, reading and reading."

Town Administrator Joseph Jones, who gave Kirwin his new title until the court case is resolved, said "We're discovering we could use an extra person around here."

Kirwin's troubles started when the police sergeant, David Brunk, filed suit, claiming he had been unfairly denied serious consideration by the town when it chose a new police chief.

According to Cheverly's hiring laws, Brunk contends, the town was required to look for qualified people inside the department before it began advertising outside.

"I came through the ranks," he said in an interview. "I've handled everything except homicide (which Prince George's County police handle), and I'm more qualified than Kirwin." Brunk has been with the Cheverly force for five years, and in law enforcement for 15.

He also is president of the local union of sheriffs and municipal police officers.

"I'm just a poor, working, street policeman, that's all. It seems rather a travesty to me that I have to spend my hard-earned funds in getting justice," Brunk said.

Brunk's College Park attorney, Nelson Oneglia, said Cheverly "preselected" Kirwin and never gave Brunk the chance he deserved.

"Our man is fully qualified for this post," Oneglia said. "This guy's been to every school in the world. preselecting and didn't want our man."

Cheverly officials weren't talking about the case this week. "We think this is rather sensitive," said town administrator Jones. "Talk to our attorney."

Robert Heffron, who heads the Town Council's public safety committee that selected Kirwin, said: "I'd rather not comment. Talk to our attorney."

Mayor Robert O'Connor, who swore Kirwin in as chief, said, "We very rarely have anything like this happen in Cheverly. The last time we had to use our attorney was about four years ago."

The attorney, Calvert Lancaster, didn't add very much: "I don't know anything about it, really. We're just waiting for the Aug. 15 court hearing." That hearing is set one day before the current chief, Maj. A. J. Parys, is scheduled to retire.