PASADENA, MD., SEPT. 18 -- Robert R. Neall, the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Executive, today accused his Democratic rival, council member Theodore J. Sophocleus, of trying to mask the source of illegal campaign donations by falsely naming elderly citizens as the contributors.

At a news conference held at his campaign headquarters here, Neall accused Sophocleus of using 31 residents of the county-owned Glen Square apartment complex for seniors with low incomes "to launder" $875 in campaign funds.

Sophocleus strenuously denied that he was seeking to hide illegally obtained funds and called Neall's allegations a despicable attempt to gain an advantage in the Nov. 6 election. "We were told the campaign would go into the gutter like that and it's started," he said.

According to Neall, the Glen Square residents are listed on Sophocleus' campaign finance reports as having bought $25 tickets to an April 22 bull roast that they actually attended for free. Neall said he was alerted when he discovered his 72-year-old uncle was identified as a contributor and questioned him.

Neall also alleged other irregularities in Sophocleus's finance reports dating from last fall, including several donations that were above legal limits and gifts from political action committees that Neall said were not properly accounted for.

"I think he had some people who were willing to give him significant amounts of cash and this is an ostensibly legal way to hide it," Neall said. At Neall's request, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli has agreed to look into Sophocleus's campaign finances for possible criminal violations.

Montanarelli said willfully misrepresenting information on a campaign finance report is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year's imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Sophocleus acknowledged today that the Glen Square residents listed on his finance reports attended the April fund-raiser with complimentary tickets. He said candidates often distribute surplus tickets to senior citizens and nonprofit organizations as a public-relations gesture. In the case of the April fund-raiser, the names of some residents appeared as contributors, Sophocleus said, because many of them donated cakes that were sold at the event through bets on a "wheel of fortune" and he wanted to give them credit for their effort.

Although some residents listed, including Neall's uncle, may not have donated a cake, Sophocleus said he "was more interested in letting the people of Glen Square know that they contributed as a group. We weren't able to account for every person that brought an item."

He said, "The {reporting} forms may need some revisions, but there certainly wasn't any criminal intent."

Rebecca Babinec, a supervisor for the state election board, said it would be up to Montanarelli's office to determine whether the accounting for the cake sales constituted a campaign finance violation. Usually, candidates are required to list donated items, no matter how small, under a separate category for "in-kind contributions," Babinec said, and proceeds from wheels of fortune are also supposed to be listed separately since there are limits on how much money can be raised through gambling in any given election.

Responding to Neall's other allegations, Sophocleus pointed to the inexperience of his campaign treasurer, his 25-year-old daughter, Evangeline Taylor.

Montanarelli also said that for the purposes of a criminal investigation, contributions that are above legal limits are considered to be the responsibility of the contributor, not the candidate.

Neall was unswayed by Sophocleus's explanations. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse," he said.