Nearly two years after faking his suicide, the leader of a ring that provided LSD to Fairfax County high school students was arrested yesterday in Missouri after police caught him once again with drugs, authorities said.

Seth Michael Ferranti, 21, had staged his drowning in the Potomac River just before he was to appear as a key witness in the trial of two other men involved in the Fairfax drug ring.

Ferranti, who has shaved his head and added a goatee since his disappearance, was arrested in a suburban St. Louis economy motel, where authorities said they found 18 pounds of marijuana and a dozen different identification cards in his room.

"He admitted he was selling 10 to 20 pounds of marijuana a week in this area," said Luke Adler, a deputy U.S. marshal who took part in the arrest.

In Fairfax, Ferranti and five other former county high school students were convicted of taking part in a conspiracy to sell more than 100,000 doses of LSD from 1989 until 1991, much of it to teenagers who attended Robinson Secondary School, Ferranti's alma mater. The ring also sold marijuana, police said. Ferranti fled before his sentencing.

The five other members of Ferranti's drug ring, all former students at Robinson and Lake Braddock secondary schools, are serving federal prison terms.

Ferranti had registered at the Missouri motel where he was captured under the name Jacob Burchfield. His true identity was determined through fingerprints, investigators said.

Officials said Ferranti will be returned to the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where he faces up to 20 years in the LSD case and 10 years for fleeing. He was in custody last night in Missouri, where authorities said they will investigate evidence of recent marijuana dealing.

Ferranti's mother, Anne, said yesterday that she never believed her son was dead, even though he never contacted the family.

"I couldn't picture him spending the rest of his life on the run, but I certainly didn't want him to spend 20 years in jail, either," she said. "It's a Catch-22. At least we know he's okay, and we'll get to see him now.

"This is a kid who could have gone to Harvard had he not gone the marijuana and alcohol route," Anne Ferranti added. "He has been involved in drugs since he was 13. Marijuana, he just couldn't stay away from it."

Ferranti staged his suicide on Nov. 8, 1991, when U.S. Park Police found his car and clothing on the river bank near Great Falls. The police also found a suicide note in the car and an empty vodka bottle on the ground.

The suicide note, written on one page of paper and released by authorities yesterday, reads like the lyrics of a rock song. It begins, "Journey to the center of the star ain't that far.

"Boundaries are limitless," the note continues. "In my head. Now I'm dead. Such a tender young imagination adds to my frustration."

It concludes: "I crave death. Death is my Maker. So ends the journey of a lost soul. Wrong person. Wrong place. Wrong time. Right?"

Roger Ray, U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, said authorities doubted suicide from the start because "it was too convenient, too well-laid out. And there was no indication he was inclined to do it."

Ray said the Marshal's Service never ceased pursuing Ferranti and distributed fingerprints to law enforcement agencies across the nation.

Ferranti's life on the lam began to unravel on Sept. 13, when he was arrested with a quarter-pound of marijuana outside a fast-food restaurant in St. Charles City, Mo., investigators said.

He was released in that case 20 hours later after giving police the name "Christopher Lenart." But his fingerprints later were checked.

Investigators said they determined Sept. 23 that "Lenart" was actually Ferranti. When Ferranti returned to St. Louis after a trip to Texas, officials arrested him.