Two deputy sheriffs suspended in Howard County for play-acting as Nazis on the job told investigators that eight to 10 of their co-workers had often played along with them, an attorney for the deputies said yesterday. It was long regarded as a running gag in the sheriff's office, said the attorney, Michael Marshall.

A recently completed investigation by the Maryland State Police affirmed that Maj. Donald L. Pruitt, second-in-command of the Howard sheriff's office, and his twin, Sgt. Dennis L. Pruitt, had engaged in the activities, Marshall said.

Howard Sheriff Herbert Stonesifer, who requested the investigation, would not discuss the findings yesterday.

He did say he had told the brothers two years ago to cease their mimicry.

Stonesifer said he would consult with the state Attorney General's Office next week about whether to file disciplinary charges against the brothers.

If charged, the brothers would come before a trial board of law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions, said Stuart Nathan, an assistant state attorney general.

The 39-year-old brothers gave State Police investigators the names of other deputies who had gone along with the gag for several years, Marshall said.

Marshall said he wasn't surprised that State Police internal affairs investigators found the play-acting had occurred.

The Pruitts "never denied that they did the little flip-hand salute and would say 'Achtung' and 'Sieg heil' " in the sheriff's County Courthouse office suite, he said.

Marshall said no one told the brothers to stop, or indicated that it was offensive.

"If they had, they would have stopped," he said.

The Pruitts told investigators that Stonesifer only "told them not to let it get out of hand," Marshall said.

The Pruitts were not available for comment yesterday.

They have been suspended with pay since April, after 13 deputies from the 24-person sheriff's staff complained to the Baltimore Sun about the activities.

The deputies said that for several years, the brothers had clicked their heels and greeted other deputies with straight-arm, Nazi-style salutes.

Religious leaders and county officials later urged Stonesifer to excise what one rabbi called "a sickness" from his office.

Marshall said the Pruitts had merely been spoofing the old television comedy "Hogan's Heroes," and have since apologized.

"It wasn't intended as a glorification of Nazism," he said.

The Pruitts "are not members of any organization," Marshall said.

"They don't even know about neo-Nazi organizations . . . . There was no political content intended."