Federal prosecutors yesterday charged a former mid-level official at the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington with illegally accepting more than $23,900 in payoffs in 1979 for seeking permanent- residence status -- and in one case a passport -- for more than 100 immigrants, most of them Iranians.

Maron J. (Babe) Sheehi, 55, who was an immigration inspector with the INS central office in Washington, was charged in papers filed in U.S. District Court with conspiracy to accept bribes and gratuities and to defraud the federal government of his unbiased services. Sheehi, who lives at 2500 N. Van Dorn St., Alexandria, also was charged with one count of income-tax evasion.

The charges carry maximum penalties of five years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Sheehi is expected to appear before Judge Thomas A. Flannery today. Sheehi retired from INS last May.

Information that led to the charges surfaced in wiretaps during the FBI'S undercover operation known as "Brilab," which initially focused on insurance-related corruption cases.

The government contends that an Iranian-American middleman, identified in court papers as Shams Javid of Virginia, and others referred foreigners to an immigration consulting service in Arlington operated by Maria V. Carballo, described as Sheehi's former girlfriend. Javid was paid a commission for the referrals, according to court papers.

Between December 1978 and November 1979, Carballo received about $45,000 in immigration consulting fees from clients, of which about $23,900 went to Sheehi, court papers said. The fees were taken in cash and some were held in a safe deposit box in Carballo's and Sheehi's name, court papers said. Carballo is not charged in the case, court papers said.

As part of the alleged conspiracy, the government contends, Sheehi advised Carballo how to fill out immigration papers for permanent residency, labor certification and visa extensions and then referred certain cases prepared by Carballo to specific immigration examiners for processing.

The government also charged that Sheehi contacted employes at the U.S. Department of Labor and at the D.C. Department of Labor to get them to process cases filed by Carballo, and told her what immigration officials she should avoid when she went to INS with her clients.

In one case described in court papers, Carballo and Sheehi met with a couple seeking permanent residence in the United States in February 1979, and discussed their immigration problem. Then they discussed the consulting fee with Carballo while Sheehi was present, and Carballo subsequently prepared their documents, the papers asserted. The couple eventually paid a $10,000 fee to Carballo, the court was told. In another case, a man paid a $10,000 fee to Carballo for consultation on a passport, $4,000 of which went to Sheehi, court papers said.

The government charged Sheehi with income-tax evasion for declaring that his taxable income for 1979 was $22,359, and that he owed $4,590 in taxes when he knew his true taxable income for that year was $41,129 and his tax liability was $11,674.