A Charles County sheriff's lieutenant is facing charges that he misused the sheriff's computer system to perform illegal criminal background checks and to alter internal sheriff's office records, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in Charles County Circuit Court.

Lt. Michael J. Allison, an 18-year veteran of the department, was indicted Nov. 1, charged with misuse of fiduciary capacity and two counts of misconduct in office on two dates in 1997 and 1998 while he served as custodian of the sheriff's records department, the sheriff's office said this week.

Allison declined to comment, but his lawyer, Robert Bonsib of Greenbelt, said Allison denied the charges and has repeatedly told his supervisors he has done nothing wrong.

"We're going to contest these charges," Bonsib said. "Lt. Allison has had a distinguished law enforcement career in Charles County for almost 20 years. . . . He hopes to be able to continue it when he clears himself of these charges."

Allison, 43, of La Plata, was a prominent supporter of Rex Coffey, the Democratic challenger of Sheriff Fred Davis (R) in last year's election.

Sources close to the investigation said that much of the alleged computer misuse was connected to Allison's political activities. Those sources said that the investigation focused in part on Allison's alleged use of his sheriff's computer log-on to conduct criminal background checks and motor vehicle record checks of local politicians and adversaries of the Coffey campaign.

The indictment alleges that Allison ran a criminal background check on Scott Lee Boatman--a Democratic candidate for county commissioner who pulled out of the race after news reports of a 1997 drunken driving and marijuana possession conviction--and on another Charles County resident with a name similar to Boatman's. Boatman did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

Allison also is charged in the indictment with altering or deleting portions of sheriff's internal records on deputies working for the office.

Allison was placed on administrative leave in February during the internal probe into his activity as records commander. That internal investigation was sparked in part by a complaint from Boatman, sources said.

Shortly after the sheriff's office began looking into the matter, Charles County State's Attorney Leonard C. Collins (D) appointed a special prosecutor--Prince George's County Assistant State's Attorney Robert Dean. Dean said Tuesday he would not discuss the indictment.

Sources said that the "fiduciary misuse" charge did not involve money, but rather alleged misappropriation of valuable computer data in Allison's charge during his stint as records commander, a job he had held since March 1997.

Allison's supporters have long said that Allison's suspension was politically motivated--a vendetta by Davis, who was angered over Allison's support of Coffey. Davis declined to comment Tuesday.

"The way I look at it, it's politics," Coffey said Tuesday. "It's a witch hunt. The sheriff won the election. . . . Why is he continuing to persecute people at the sheriff's office?"

The Charles County Fraternal Order of Police--a law enforcement officers group that had backed Coffey in last year's campaign--issued a statement Tuesday in support of Allison.

The FOP statement said that the sheriff's office had proposed not pressing charges against Allison if he would resign--an offer Allison refused. Allison will retain his office as first vice president of the Maryland State FOP, the statement said.

Allison would, if convicted, face up to five years in prison on the fiduciary misuse charge; the other two counts are common law offenses that do not carry specific penalties. In addition, once the criminal case is concluded, a sheriff's internal administrative review board will hear the case and could recommend sanctions ranging from a fine to termination.