BALTIMORE, FEB. 22 -- A Montgomery County doctor, scheduled to plead guilty to selling illicit prescriptions of powerful pain-killing narcotics, failed to show up in federal court today, setting off a fruitless daylong search in the Washington area by federal agents armed with a bench warrant for his arrest.

Dr. George C. Daniel of Potomac, who was a fellow at the National Institutes of Health when he allegedly sold prescriptions to undercover agents, had been jailed for two months after his arrest in November. Federal prosecutors had asked that he be held without bond, citing fears he might flee the country if released.

Prosecutors had argued against setting bond because Daniel had lied about his age, citizenship and financial assets and because he was a licensed pilot who had owned a Cessna aircraft. But Daniel was freed last month on $200,000 bond, secured by several properties he owns in the Washington area.

"We may have a fugitive on our hands," prosecutor Harvey E. Eisenberg said yesterday, after Daniel failed to appear for a scheduled 10 a.m. guilty plea before U.S. District Judge John R. Hargrove. "We haven't heard a thing from him."

Court sources said Daniel was scheduled to plead guilty today to one count of illicit distribution of a prescription drug in the 11-count indictment against him and would face deportation after completing a prison sentence.

Defense attorney Price O. Gielen, who appeared alone before Hargrove, said Daniel called him earlier in the morning to say he did not want to go through with the guilty plea and was dropping Gielen as his lawyer. Gielen said Daniel told him it was "not his intent to flee" and that he would reappear in court when he hired a new lawyer.

Hargrove, noting the "history of this defendant" for unreliability, immediately issued a bench warrant for Daniel's arrest.

Several Drug Enforcement Administration agents began combing the area, searching for Daniel at places he is known to frequent in Montgomery County and the District. But they had not found him by day's end.

Eisenberg added that Daniel's movements may be limited because both his passport and pilot's license have been seized by federal agents. Also, he said, Daniel is believed to have recently sold his Cessna.

Daniel, an endocrinologist, attracted media attention two years ago by launching a novel house-call service for the elderly and handicapped. He is a British subject, born on the Caribbean island of Dominica, and had been living in the United States on an expired student visa, according to Eisenberg.

Daniel was charged with selling a total of 11 prescriptions for 330 tablets and capsules of Dilaudid, Percodan and Demerol. Dilaudid, a potent painkiller often administered to terminally ill cancer patients, is popular among drug addicts and sells for up to $50 a capsule on the streets in Washington, Eisenberg said.

According to a DEA affidavit filed in Daniel's case, Daniel reportedly prescribed the potent drugs to "patients" or customers "for nonmedical purposes," often selling the prescriptions in public parking lots without giving the customers medical examinations or obtaining medical histories from them.

In 1986, Daniel started a service called Geodan Medical House Calls, which he operated from his home at 11610 Milbern Dr. in Potomac. In news accounts at the time, Daniel claimed he had signed up about 60 retired or moonlighting physicians, reviving the tradition of making house calls chiefly to elderly and handicapped patients.

Daniel simultaneously was working under a three-year fellowship at NIH in Bethesda, until his arrest. With the arrest, his medical house call business apparently collapsed and its telephone service was disconnected.

Prosecutors say they are uncertain about Daniel's age. Eisenberg said documents show he was born in either the late 1940s or early 1950s. He said Daniel graduated from Yale Medical School in 1979, the year his student visa expired.

Court sources said that Daniel falsely claimed he was a United States citizen in obtaining the NIH fellowship, as well as funding from the U.S. Public Health Service for a portion of his medical training at Yale.