Alta Rae Zanville, the woman who secretly tape-recorded Rayful Edmond III's mother discussing his drug dealings, was spared a prison sentence yesterday because of her willingness to "risk . . . her own life" to aid prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Charles Richey said that without people such as Zanville who are "willing to come forward, give up everything they have and tell what the facts are," the justice would not be served. Richey placed her on four years of probation and ordered her to pay a $5,000 fine.

"I am truly sorry, your honor," Zanville, 49, told Richey, her voice cracking. "I wish I had used those years to help people, and if I could do it all over again I would."

Zanville, who pleaded guilty to two drug felonies, was one of Edmond's closest associates for more than two years and participated in almost every aspect of the drug conspiracy, from ferrying suitcases stuffed with millions of dollars to the West Coast for drug purchases to cutting kilograms of cocaine into minute amounts for street sales.

She agreed to cooperate with investigators after she was arrested in December 1988, and for the next four months repeatedly wore hidden microphones to help authorities collect information about the Edmond organization's operations.

During a conversation over a seafood lunch at a Southwest Washington waterfront restaurant, Constance Perry, Edmond's mother, described how her son had started young selling pills, graduated to selling drugs on the street "and then he . . . it just got too big, he just up and went out on his own."

On Wednesday, Perry was sentenced to 24 years and five months in prison for her conviction on a cocaine conspiracy charge.

During yesterday's 1 1/2-hour hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dominguez asked Richey to give Zanville less than the 151 to 181 months imprisonment provided in federal sentencing guidelines, but did not ask for a specific sentence.

Richey said that while he did not view Zanville as a "paragon of virtue," he believed she had "acted courageously" with "significant risk to her own life." He said that it appeared that since Zanville's arrest, her life had been "much akin to that of our nation's worst jail cells."

Zanville has been in hiding since members of the Edmond drug gang were arrested in April 1988, and Richey said yesterday that since then she has received numerous threats on her life.

The sentencing of Zanville came after those of eight defendants convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine in the second trial of Edmond associates that ended in March. All eight, including Perry, received long prison terms:

Rachelle Edmond, Edmond's sister who stored cocaine and handled finances for many of the family members involved in the conspiracy, 21 years and 10 months.

Melvin Stewart, Edmond's brother who was a street lieutenant and lived in the drug gang's headquarters at 407 M St. NE, 24 years and five months.

Robert Hardy, who directed street sales for the Edmond organization in the Bates Street NW area, 24 years and four months.

Ronald Morgan, who bought cocaine from the Edmond group for resale, 21 years and 10 months.

Jeffrey Thompson, Edmond's brother-in-law and one of the people who packaged cocaine for street sales, 21 years and eight months.

Willie G. Childress, a California-based courier who delivered large quantities of cocaine to the Edmond organization here, 26 years and eight months.

Columbus Daniels, an enforcer for the cocaine gang, 30 years and five months to life for his role in the cocaine conspiracy and for the murder of rival drug dealer Brandon Terrell outside the Chapter III nightclub in June 1988.