Virginia State Police investigators have asked prosecutors whether they should initiate a full investigation into the campaign fund-raising tactics of Prince William County Sheriff E. Lee Stoffregen III (D), after one of the sheriff's political foes alleged that he was "selling badges" in exchange for campaign donations.

Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) requested that a special prosecutor be appointed after Stoffregen asked for an "immediate" investigation of the allegation two weeks before he won reelection. One of Stoffregen's challengers had written letters to several government agencies in which he said Stoffregen was soliciting thousands of dollars in political contributions in exchange for deputizing Prince William residents into the sheriff's department's reserve program.

State police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said the governor's office forwarded a copy of the challenger's letter to police investigators, who reviewed it and then referred it to Ebert's office yesterday. Caldwell said investigators will wait for prosecutors to decide whether a state police investigation is necessary.

The Chesterfield County commonwealth's attorney's office, acting as special prosecutor, has been reviewing the case since late last month. The office will likely decide whether to involve the state police.

Kenneth Nickels, Chesterfield County assistant commonwealth's attorney, said the investigation could take some time. "We're still determining facts, as opposed to applying it to the law at this point," Nickels said.

"I look forward to the investigation, and I have no doubt in my mind that nothing illegal or unethical took place," Stoffregen said yesterday.

The sheriff said that the reserve deputies did not contribute to his candidacy in exchange for being made deputies. "These guys have a lot of confidence in me as sheriff," he said.

Stoffregen said he has not been contacted by the state police or by Chesterfield County prosecutors regarding the investigation.

One of Stoffregen's campaign opponents, A.D. "Tony" Dominguez (I), first raised the issue of misconduct, contending that donations from reserve deputies are not only unethical but also possibly a violation of election law.

"What we discovered was the fact that most of the people who were making campaign contributions were making the contributions the same day or shortly after they were sworn in as reserve deputies," Dominguez said. "It's subordinates giving money to their boss."

Among the allegations are that two reserve deputies donated $1,000 each to Stoffregen's campaign the day that they were sworn in. Dominguez said he also believes reserve deputies donated the use of their vehicles and boats in return for being deputized. The reserve deputy program essentially creates a cadre of trained residents who are given the same enforcement power as deputy sheriffs, including a badge and a uniform. The reserves are unpaid.

In building a campaign fund of more than $200,000, Stoffregen was by far the county's most successful fund-raiser this year, finishing with more than 200 times as much cash as either of his opponents. He received almost 77 percent of the votes.

CAPTION: Sheriff E. Lee Stoffregen III was accused by a campaign opponent of deputizing residents for donations.