A federal grand jury in Baltimore indicted a former Distric of Columbia accounting officer in the misappropriation and theft of $40,462.78 from the personal bank accounts of patients at Forest Haven, the city's institution for the retarded.

The grand jury charged Lemuel Taylor, 39, of Columbia, Md., with 16 counts of theft and fraudulent misappropriation from patient accounts between Feb. 26, 1979 and May 5, 1980. At the time, he was in charge of the business office at Forest Haven. He resigned last June 27.

Taylor has denied any wrongdoing.

Allegations of impropriety involving Taylor surfaced last July after the D.C. auditor's office spot-checked some of the patient accounts and found withdrawals of $12,000 to $15,000 unaccounted for in one transaction alone. Records of about 1,000 patient accounts -- which total about $500,000 -- were found to be in "a shambles," sources close to the auditor's office said at the time.

James Buford, head of the city's Department of Human Services, recommended an investigation that came to include the U.S. Park Police and the D.C. Inspector General's office. Park Police were involved because Forest Haven, located in Laurel, Md., is on federal property.

City auditors reported last year that they found Taylor had withdrawn $20,000 from patient accounts at the Citizens National Bank in Laurel during one day's transactions in October, 1979, and that $12,000 to $15,000 was unaccounted for, sources said.

The money, sources said, was to have been redeposited in a petty cash fund at Forest Haven so residents could purchase specialized clothing, canteen goods and other items.

The auditors reported that they had found no evidence that the money of six of the residents -- including one who had died in 1978 -- had been redeposited, the sources asserted.

The indictment, which was returned Thursday, did not specify details of the charges and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Hollander, who is handling the case, declined to elaborate.

Taylor said last year that allegations against him had been "blown out of proportion." He could not be reached for comment yesterday.