Prosecutors say it's a story about two government officials who sold out to private interests and cheated taxpayers. Defense lawyers say it's merely a tale of office intrigue with some District politics thrown in, but no criminality.

As of today, the federal jury in the conspiracy and bribery trial of former D.C. Department of Human Services officials Gladys Baxley and Michael Davis will begin sorting through three weeks of testimony to decide which version to believe.

Closing arguments in the case, given yesterday in U.S. District Court here, focused on Department of Human Services contracts given to JMC Associates, a fledgling company that in 1986 submitted a bid to provide halfway-house beds for patients released from St. Elizabeths Hospital. The company was owned by Carla Mumby, a friend of former human services head David E. Rivers and D.C. businessman John B. Clyburn.

Baxley, then head of the Human Services Department's Mental Health Services Administration, and Davis, a friend of Rivers and Clyburn, were closely involved with the contract. Baxley is now a private consultant and Davis runs a liquor store.

Prosecutors said that Baxley fought the JMC contract through most of early 1986 for valid reasons: Its costs were the highest of any bidder and it had major organizational problems. She changed her mind, and sacrificed her integrity as a public official, the prosecution said, when she realized her job was in danger and that she could salvage it by protecting JMC -- something Davis urged her to do. JMC wound up getting more than $317,000 in human services contracts that year.

"We are gathered here because a crime has been committed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Motley told the jury. "What the people of the District of Columbia lost was the loyal, unbiased, faithful service" of two government employees whose jobs were to serve the mentally ill at the lowest cost," Motley said.

But lawyers for Baxley and Davis told the jury that all the pair did was engage in office politics.

Davis wanted to help Baxley, said Baxley's lawyer, Frederick A. Douglas, because Davis thought highly of her as an administrator, and he thought that she was being unfairly drawn into office politics associated with the District's taking control of St. Elizabeths Hospital from the federal government.

JMC was a struggling minority company trying to provide a service few other businesses were interested in, helping mentally ill people adjust to life in the community, said Frederick J. Sullivan, who represents Davis. Despite the firm's initially high cost estimates and long start-up time, Sullivan said, JMC eventually provided the services it promised.

"There was no conspiracy," Sullivan said. "No one was ever defrauded of anything. There wasn't any bribe. That's what we're talking about."