The former finance director for Vienna pleaded guilty yesterday to embezzlement, telling a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge that he took more than $14,000 from the town after he acquired a cocaine habit, the prosecutor said.

Steven L. Pullman, 28, who could receive up to 20 years in prison for the felony, apologized to the town and the judge, said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sarah Deneke.

Deneke said Pullman told the judge he had acquired a $400 to $500-a-day cocaine habit. "He said that cocaine made him stupid," she said after the hearing.

Pullman was fired from his $33,000-a-year job in March after it was discovered that he had cashed a $789.19 paycheck that should have been destroyed. The check was one of a flawed set that did not withhold the correct amount of taxes.

After Pullman's dismissal, the town called in auditors and found that more than $14,000 was missing. An arrest warrant was issued, and Pullman surrendered to police officers at the Breezeway Motel in Fairfax City.

Pullman, who had been finance director since July 1986 and oversaw the town's $11 million budget, embezzled the money between November 1986 and March 1987, according to Deneke. He was indicted by a grand jury in May, she said.

Town Manager John Schoeberlein said yesterday that in addition to the payroll check, there were three fraudulently issued checks. He said the town has received restitution from a bond company.

Deneke said Pullman apologized to the town and to Judge Johanna L. Fitzpatrick, saying it was his first time in the fast lane. Pullman, who lived in the District, told the judge he had become involved with "the wrong crowd," the prosecutor said.

Pullman, who is free on bond until his sentencing on Sept. 11, now lives in Colorado with his wife and baby and could not be reached for comment yesterday. His attorney, John J. O'Donnell Jr., did not return a reporter's phone calls.

Schoeberlein, who attended yesterday's hearing, said he learned of Pullman's cocaine problem through the police investigation. Said Schoeberlein: "What he did was wrong, regardless of the reason."