The federal government's case against Mary Treadwell goes to the jury today, as jurors examine charges by prosecutors that she defrauded the federal government and low-income tenants of thousands of dollars to enrich herself.

After hearing legal instructions in the fraud and conspiracy case from U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn, the jury is expected to begin deliberations on the 21 charges against Treadwell this morning.

Yesterday, a government prosecutor told a federal court jury that Treadwell used the dilapidated Clifton Terrace apartment complex as "her piggy bank." Her defense lawyer, however, described Treadwell as "one magnificent woman . . . who has done so much for so many other people."

Assistant U.S. Attorney William D. Pease and defense attorney John W. Nields Jr. presented their sharply contrasting views of Treadwell to the jury of eight women and four men in their closing arguments at Treadwell's five-week-old trial.

Pease, who has investigated charges against Treadwell and worked on the case for nearly four years, accused her of repeatedly lying to federal agencies about her true intentions in creating the nonprofit P.I. Properties Inc., the company that owned and managed the slum-like Clifton Terrace in the mid-1970s.

"Where was the charity that was supposed to go to the Clifton Terrace tenants?" the prosecutor asked, as he paced the courtroom floor and gestured with his hands before the jury. "They were abandoned the day Treadwell and P.I. Properties walked in. Mary Treadwell said, 'We're here to make money,' and money they made.

"Clifton Terrace was a piggy bank for Mary Treadwell," Pease said in the hushed and jammed courtroom.

The prosecutor said that Treadwell, 42, "knew from the beginning" of the criminal wrongdoing that was occurring during P.I. Properties' 1974-78 management and ownership of Clifton Terrace. "She knew throughout. She knew at the end."

Throughout the trial, Nields, Treadwell's attorney, has tried to deflect blame away from his client and toward two other P.I. Properties officials: Robert E. Lee, the firm's general manager, and Joan M. Booth, Treadwell's sister, who was Clifton Terrace's project manager. Both have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy and other charges in the case.

But Pease contended, "It was Mary Treadwell who called the tunes that everyone else marched to. It was Mary Treadwell who was a leader."

Nields, like Pease, focused considerable attention on the often complex financial transactions that Treadwell, Lee and Booth engaged in while they operated the now-defunct P.I. Properties.

But Nields, who was appointed by Penn to serve as Treadwell's attorney, largely attempted to create doubt in the jurors' minds that Treadwell, with a long record of community service as head of the 1970s job-training program known as Youth Pride Inc., would even consider committing the fraud and thefts the government has alleged.

"She did not steal one penny from Clifton Terrace," Nields quietly told the jury, later noting that "it's not a crime" that Treadwell did not spend money that she made from her various business ventures on Clifton Terrace.

"They have accused her of stealing money," Nields said in a virtual whisper as he stood a few feet in front of the jury box. "Is that consistent with anything you know about this case or know about her?

"Mary Treadwell made a difference in the lives of people who looked up to her and trusted her," Nields said.

Nields, while discussing specific financial transactions in which Treadwell is accused of profiting at the expense of the Clifton Terrace tenants, often rhetorically asked the jury how much money Treadwell earned as a result.

"Zero," he quietly answered, as he touched his right thumb and forefinger together.

But the defense attorney saved his most pointed remarks for Zellene Laney, P.I. Properties' former bookkeeper and Treadwell's chief accuser among the 35 prosecution witnesses in the case. Laney testified that Treadwell helped alter and destroy records so that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which sold Clifton Terrace to P.I. Properties and later foreclosed on the firm's mortgage, would not know where the tenants' money had been spent.

Nields said that Laney, 37, "couldn't remember from one minute to the next what she told this jury" and had given other versions of Clifton Terrace events when she reluctantly testified in 1979 before a federal grand jury.

The defense attorney called Laney a perjurer. He described her courtroom testimony as "an ugly event" and asked the jury to "wash her from your minds."

Pease, in his rebuttal, poked fun at Nields' effort to portray Treadwell as a woman above any criminal offense.

"They don't want to bore you about talking about Clifton Terrace and what happened to the money," the prosecutor said. "This case is not about Pride. It's about deception, fraud, deceit and thefts and lies.

"She lied, and lied and lied for her own personal profit," Pease declared.

In addition to fraud and conspiracy, Treadwell is accused of making false statements to federal officials and income-tax evasion.