Janette Hoston Harris's husband was thumbing through his mail Friday when an invitation to a fund-raiser for Democratic mayoral nominee Sharon Pratt Dixon stopped him cold.

He handed it to Harris, a history professor and Democratic State Committee member with considerable political experience, and said "This looks irregular. What is all this?"

Along with the invitation to a "Black Tie Fun-Raising Boogie" were two extraordinary enclosures:

A letter from a company called Century Finance Corporation offering to reimburse contributors to Dixon's campaign if they took out a loan with the company.

A business card from Mertine Moore, sister of Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore -- a key witness against Mayor Marion Barry in his drug and perjury trial -- advertising her business of making house calls to men and women to give manicures, pedicures and facials.

"I looked at it and said, 'This is highly irregular . . . . My Lord, this is serious,' " said Harris, who alerted Dixon to the baffling correspondence.

The campaign scrambled to "make sure we were not caught in a trap," said campaign manager David Byrd, who immediately canceled Dixon's plans to appear at the Saturday event.

"Fortunately, we were not contaminated," said Byrd, who went in Dixon's place to the party at the Unicorn Lane NW home of Bob Koontz. Byrd announced to the crowd of ambassadors, city government department heads, international business people and other guests that the campaign had nothing to do with the enclosures and would not accept any money raised at the event.

More than $5,000 in checks received that night has since been returned, Byrd said.

"It was grossly tacky," said the main organizer of the fete, Clifton B. Smith, a former chief of staff to Barry and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy. "It smells bad."

Smith, who said the enclosures were sent to some of the guests "unbeknownst to me, and without consultation," blamed the mess on Koontz and Dorsey Evans, another host who is a lawyer and an associate of Koontz's at Century Finance.

Smith, Koontz, Evans and a fourth person, Allen Seissler -- who could not be located -- were listed on the invitation as sponsors. Each sent out his own batch of invitations, Smith said.

Neither Koontz nor Evans returned several telephone calls this week. Their business card, which advertises first, second and third mortgages, debt consolidation and refinancing, also was included in some of the invitations.

Moore, who was present at the party and whose number is listed on the invitation as a source of "further information," refused yesterday to discuss her involvement with the event.

Rasheeda Moore, a former girlfriend of Barry's, testified last summer that she had used drugs with the mayor at her sister Mertine's Southwest Washington home.

Sources close to the Dixon campaign are calling the gala one big dirty trick.

"The mixture of the crowd included a lot of Marion {Barry} people who have relatively compromising backgrounds who backed other candidates in the primary and have been spreading rumors that we are not reaching out to them," said one source.

"It could be an effort to sabotage the campaign or to tie Sharon into the status quo and protect their interests."

Other Dixon advisers disagreed. "Whoever did this certainly did not think it through," said Harris, who was treasurer for independent William P. Lightfoot's campaign for an at-large D.C. Council seat.

"A politically astute person would not have done this . . . . I know an attorney would know it was improper," Harris said.

Michael Simpson, spokesman for the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, who received an invitation to the event, but no enclosures, said he decided not to attend after hearing about the shenanigans.

"It's such a strange situation," he said yesterday. "At this point, nobody has broken the law."

Donors who contribute to a campaign with the understanding they will be reimbursed by a third party violate campaign finance rules, Simpson said. He added that an investigation of the incident is unlikely.