A federal grand jury in Alexandria indicted eight persons yesterday for allegedly operating a drug trafficking ring that distributed almost $3 million worth of cocaine through area used car dealerships since 1980.

The 21-count indictment said the car dealerships were used to store the cocaine and launder the drug proceeds.

At DPL Motors in Arlington, cocaine was concealed in the trunks, door panels and other compartments of cars, according to the indictment. Drugs also were stored at Virginia Used Autos in Falls Church and Silver Spring, court papers said.

The indictment was the result of a three-year investigation conducted by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Program, which was set up by President Reagan in 1982, and included officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI and police in Arlington, Fairfax and Montgomery counties.

"It was a major investigation," said Karen Lee, a spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney's office.

Charged with conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine were Carlos Arturo Acevedo, 36, a Chilean citizen living in Arlington; Mario Acosta-Blas, 45, of Silver Spring; Gonzalo Horatio Chavez, 42, of Peru; Charles Contres, 22, a Colombian citizen; Angel R. Duenas, 52, of Annandale; Enrique Pena, 45, of Falls Church; Walter Tapia, 33, of Falls Church, and Julio Gonzalo Varges, 20, a Bolivian citizen living in New York.

The indictment, returned under seal Tuesday, also charged Acevedo, Contres and Varges with conspiracy to kidnap, kidnaping and holding a person for ransom to collect a $29,000 debt. If convicted, each faces life imprisonment and a mandatory consecutive five-year sentence for use of a firearm during the kidnaping.

Six of the eight were arrested in Northern Virginia in the last few days and are in police custody pending an arraignment on Monday, according to Lee. The other two, Chavez and Duenas, are fugitives, she said.

In addition to the charges of drug distribution, conspiracy and kidnaping, Acevedo, Duenas and Tapia were charged with tax violations and Acevedo was charged with running a continuing criminal enterprise, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole and a $2 million fine.

Prosecutors have ordered the seizure of profits Acevedo obtained from the enterprise. During the investigation, a coconspirator pleaded guilty to the charge of conducting a continuing criminal enterprise and received the minimum sentence of 10 years without parole.