Two independent Prince William candidates are hoping to unseat one-term incumbent Sheriff E. Lee Stoffregen III (D), the race's front-runner who has amassed a war chest of $200,000 in contributions--nearly 200 times the amount of cash raised by either of his challengers.

Those contributions, however, have been the recent focal point of the campaign, with candidates A.D. "Tony" Dominguez (I) and Todd L. McEwen (I) claiming that Stoffregen is "selling badges" to reserve deputies in exchange for lucrative campaign donations. Stoffregen has dismissed the attacks as baseless and generally has been sticking to discussions about his office and its future.

Out of the allegations of wrongdoing--which arose primarily from indications that reserve deputies were donating thousands of dollars to Stoffregen on the day they were sworn in--the two challengers have succeeded in getting a special prosecutor assigned to investigate Stoffregen's fund-raising tactics.

Dominguez, 45, an evidence technician for the Metropolitan Police Department, has seized on the issue, saying he wants to get rid of the "good old boys" bureaucracy and "bring back integrity and accountability to the sheriff's office."

Pledging to overhaul the reserve deputy program and to strip "politics" from the office, Dominguez has stuck to a simple mantra: "I'm just a simple citizen, a citizen just like you."

Keeping a low profile throughout the race, McEwen, 40, of Nokesville, has rested on his experience in law enforcement "to speak for itself." He was with the Sheriff's Department for 16 years until 1996, when he left to join Kim's Private Process Service Inc., where he is president.

McEwen has said he is committed to putting more of the department's resources into school security and that he will look into an upgraded alarm system for the courthouse. McEwen has pressed Stoffregen on the reserve deputy issue, asking him several times during a recent debate to explain his position while yielding much of his own discussion time to hear the answers.

Despite the allegations, Stoffregen's well-oiled machine has barely flinched. Stoffregen, 48, has stuck to his guns and maintained that he has "vast experience and knowledge far surpassing that of the other candidates."

Stoffregen, of Manassas, started with the Sheriff's Department in 1979 as a deputy and moved his way up to major by 1990. After 17 years with the department, he won election as sheriff in 1996.

Although he has butted heads with the Police Department over enforcement issues, Stoffregen has been a proponent of allowing the Sheriff's Department to take on more enforcement responsibilities in the community. He prides himself on his office's traffic enforcement programs and its participation in joint task force initiatives. He has recently put a new emphasis on warrant service, especially on parents behind in child support payments.

"I don't see us as challenging the Police Department but supporting them in many ways," Stoffregen said. "It amounts to extra law enforcement and increased visibility at no extra cost."

Stoffregen said if he is reelected, he wants to increase the technological capabilities of the department while upgrading existing systems, as well as continue his efforts with reserve deputies, which he called an "essential" part of the department's success.