A Federal Communications Commission panel says a business partnership including Maryland Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg recruited a Hispanic partner in a "sham" manipulation of FCC minority preference rules to obtain a California radio station.

The partnership is "not a bona fide business arrangement, but a sham devised to exploit artificially the mechanics of the commission's" minority preference plan, the FCC panel held in a ruling issued June 19. It said the Hispanic man, Jesus Cruz, of Fresno, Calif., was given a 15 percent interest as a general partner in the venture, but put no money into it and hardly knew any of the other partners, including Steinberg.

Attorneys for Steinberg's group denied the panel's findings.

The panel made its ruling after competitors for the potentially lucrative FM radio station license in Fresno appealed an initial order by an FCC hearing officer granting the license to Steinberg's group.

A three-member FCC review panel ordered the hearing officer to reconsider the case in light of its findings. Attorneys for Steinberg's group said they will appeal to the full five-member FCC.

Steinberg, describing himself as a "passive investor" who has put "quite a few thousand dollars" into the venture, said he knew little about the FCC fight and less about the Hispanic partner.

"I just understand it was a good investment and a good opportunity," Steinberg said.

Steinberg shares a 28.33 percent interest in the venture, called Fresno FM Limited Partnership, with Del. Richard Rynd (D-Baltimore County), a longtime business associate of Steinberg's. Two other West Coast communications investors, Ray Stanfield and Frederick Osborne, own 28.33 percent each in the radio partnership.

Rynd, whose Rynd Associates management company in Pikesville specializes in acquiring radio properties, said the FCC accusation is "totally ridiculous . . . . The partnership was put together in a perfectly proper way." He said he and Steinberg invested in the Fresno venture after meeting Stanfield and Osborne through Washington communications lawyer Lewis I. Cohen.

Rynd said Cruz, a radio and television entrepreneur with a college degree in communications and 10 years' experience in the field, was recruited by Stanfield for his expertise and "not specifically" because of his Hispanic background.

Under FCC rules, applicants for radio station licenses can enhance their qualifications by showing minority participation in their partnerships. The Supreme Court Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of two FCC minority preference plans.

The partnership's attorney, Morton L. Berfield, said the FCC had held in the past there is no requirement for individual partners to put money into the partnerships. In Cruz's case, he said, the group plans to make him general manager of the station when it is built, "and he will make his investment through his services."

The FCC review panel ruling against the Steinberg group appeared more concerned with the lack of contact between Cruz and the other partners. Apart from a "fleeting encounter" with Stanfield in 1986, the panel said, "Cruz had {and has} never met nor spoken to any of the alleged 'limited' partners . . . nor have they ever exchanged re'sume's, curriculum vitae, business or credit histories."

Calling the partnership a "burlesque," the panel said, "Not only has Cruz contributed no capital . . . he was wholly uncertain whether as the sole 'general' partner he was personally liable for the partnership debts."