The chairman of a school board in a rural Virginia county was arrested yesterday on a charge of attempting to arrange the murder of a state prosecutor in the Richmond suburbs.

Joseph Goode Jr., 39, who is the owner of a trash disposal firm in Powhatan County and who is a deacon in his church, was arrested along with 31 others in the Richmond area after a five-month undercover sting operation by the Chesterfield County police force. Goode also was charged with soliciting the theft of a tractor, a car and a truckload of cigarettes and with illegally distributing prescription drugs.

Chesterfield police said Goode is accused of approaching another man in February who was being prosecuted by Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney Charles R. Watson and offering to arrange Watson's murder.

"What you need is to have him [Watson] bumped off and I can arrange [it] .... Like a drop of rain on a hot sidewalk, he'll disappear. I can arrange it," Goode allegedly told the man, according to Chesterfield police, who said the conversation was recorded by an undercover officer.

Police said they continued to watch Goode after that and they arrested him yesterday morning because they had "reason to believe" he had contacted someone to kill Watson. "We stopped it because it went so far that we were getting scared," said Sgt. A.V. Maddra.

Goode was working on one of his firm's seven trucks when three officers appeared at a family-run store near the Powhatan-Chesterfield county border to arrest him. "Somebody has made a vicious mistake," the officers quoted Goode as saying.

He was being held last night in Chesterfield Jail without bond. An arraignment is scheduled for this morning, police said.

"I think it's some kind of frame-up," said Joseph Goode Sr., Goode's father. "I don't think he threatened the commonwealth's attorney, I don't think he knew the commonwealth's attorney. I'm surprised at the whole thing--his being arrested and these charges."

"I have never met the man before in my life until this morning," prosecutor Watson told United Press International. "Apparently, it was nothing personal."

The news of Goode's arrest stunned many residents of Powhatan, a rural, dairy-farming county 30 miles west of Richmond with a population of 14,000. Goode, a member of a family that has lived in the area for decades, was known as a member of an influential family. Both Goode and his father were deacons at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. County officials said Goode had been appointed to the school board several years and was recently elevated to chairman, a part-time position. The Goodes' family business consisted of a general store and a gas station as well as the trash service.

"I was shocked to hear the news on the radio," said Thomas Lewis, who serves as Powhatan's acting prosecutor. "I'm at a loss like everyone else to figure it out."

Chesterfield police said Goode became a suspect during the course of an elaborate undercover operation set up to snare drug traffickers, burglars and other criminals in their suburban Richmond county. Three undercover officers established and ran the "Midlothian Bargain Barn," a two-story building converted into a flea market. Individuals "came in and offered to sell stolen property and drugs to undercover police officers," said Maddra. "Before you know it, we had won their confidence."

Police said yesterday that among the individuals who came to the store was Goode, who allegedly offered to arrange for the theft of the tractor and an automobile as well as a shipment of cigarettes from a nearby Philip Morris plant. He also was accused of selling the officers prescription drugs such as Valium.

The sting operation concluded yesterday when 40 police officers from six jurisdictions in the Richmond area arrested 32 suspects on a total of 140 charges. Police said the operation had yielded $35,000 in stolen goods and $12,000 in illicit drugs.