The three independent candidates for the Republican nomination for Arlington County sheriff all agree that incumbent Democratic Sheriff James A. Gondles should be ousted from his job. The trouble is that two of the three candidates say their campaign rhetoric is being stolen.

Candidate Charles L. Bonneville yesterday accused candidate John E. Baber of plagiarizing his campaign material, while candidate David L. Ryan countered with his own plagiarism charge against Bonneville.

In one instance, the same sentence appeared in campaign literature for all three candidates.

Ryan says that he authored the line "Arlington does not need suits, scandals, escalating jail costs, inept management, political patronage, etc." Ryan, a former FBI agent now with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, says Bonneville, in a letter dated March 15, plagiarized a portion of that sentence from a campaign leaflet Ryan distributed at the Republican Committee meeting Feb. 15.

Bonneville denies plagiarizing a part of the sentence, saying he has never seen Ryan's literature.

"That's a little bit different from what I said. I can understand where there are some similarities, but I wouldn't term it plagiarism," he said.

Then, the identical version of the sentence as it appeared in Bonneville's March 15 letter showed up in a Baber flyer this week. Of the 32 lines in Baber's flyer, attached to a letter and headlined "URGENT NOTICE," 18 lines are close to identical to Bonneville's letter, including exclamation points and capitalizations.

Bonneville, who narrowly lost the sheriff's race four years ago, fired off a letter Thursday in which he said he was "appalled" that Baber would have committed "an act of outright plagiarism."

Shown the disputed material yesterday, Baber said, "I have to deny any knowledge of this thing going out. It's the first time I've seen this and it's clear it's certainly plagiarism.

"It's so blatant and so wrong it makes me wonder where it really did come from. I'm going to find out how this happened. I don't condone plagiarism and this was done without my knowledge."

Baber, who resigned from the Arlington police department to run for the sheriff's job, said he suspects some overzealous campaign worker may have sent out the material.The flyer carried a signature purporting to be Baber's. But Baber showed a reporter canceled checks yesterday with his signature, which did not match the signature on the flyer.

The Republicans are scheduled to select their party candidates Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Sheriff Gondles, laughing at the developments, said he had no comment on the rush of accusations and explainations. "I'm more than willing to run on my performance," he said.