Five Northern Virginia builders have been charged with bribing a former Prince William County building inspector as a result of an eight-month-long investigation into allegations of payoffs in the fast-growing county's housing industry.

Prince William prosector Paul B. Ebert siad yesterday he hopes the arrests will have a "chilling effect" on builders in the county and end payoffs there.

"Most of these builders are not criminally inclined," Elbert said. "If the world is out among the building industry that criminal penalties might occur then the practice should cease."

Ebert said the arrests began shortly before midnight Wednesday with the arrest of builder Jerry Lee Lewis, 34, at his home near Manassas. Lewis was charged with bribing former inspector Charles J. Wright on four separate occasions between May 1, 1978, and June 1.

Authorities declined yesterday to disclose the identities of other builders charged in the investigation saying police were still attempting to serve arrest warrants on them.

No criminal charges have been filed against Wright, who resigned his inspctor's job Friday after serving for nearly six years. Ebert declined to comment on what, if any arrangement Wright may have made with prosecutors.

Sources familiar with the probe have said Wright is cooperating with investigators and is expected to testify as a prosection witness at the trials of Lewis and others.

The bribery charges resulted from an investigation into allegations that builders paid off county building inspectors to approve faulty or incomplete construction work at new housing sites.The building boom has been accompanied by a large number of homeowner complaints about shoddy construction and developers' broken promises.

A spokesman for the Prince William County Builders Association yesterday voiced concern that all of those charged yesterday were builders.

"I hate to think [an inspector] would get off scot-free just because he is cooperating" with the prosecutors, said Garnet Brown, second vice president of the 150-member Prince William County Builders Association. The insepctors "represent a hell of a lot more people than a builder," Brown said. "They represent the public."

Ebert said yesterday that the investigation is continuing and he would not rule out the possibility that some county workers could be charged.

"If we have information involving inspectors -- with the exception of those [inspectors] necessary for making cases [in court] -- they will likewise be prosecuted," he said.

County officials said they were glad the investigation has led to formal charges."We're pleased at the progress that is being made," said County Executive Robert Noe. "We look forward to additional arrests."