Officer Andrew Barnett of the Anne Arundel County police allegedly told his superiors last year that his nation needed him -- that his Army reserves unit had been activated and that he was headed to Iraq. With that, police say, Barnett was granted a leave from his job while continuing to collect his salary.

It turned out, however, that Barnett, 51, had received no such call to duty, authorities alleged yesterday. County police Lt. Edward Bergin said a routine check revealed that, wherever Barnett was from early December 2003 to early February this year, "he definitely was not deployed by the U.S. military."

Barnett, of Hanover, has been charged with felony theft, a crime punishable by 15 years in prison. Bergin said the charge relates to the "thousands of dollars" Barnett collected during his leave of absence. He said Barnett, a county police officer for eight years, also has been suspended without pay.

"It's unconscionable," said Bergin, who investigated the matter. Police officers are expected to conduct themselves with integrity, Bergin said, and "here he's perpetrating a fraud and saying he's overseas fighting terrorism when he's not."

Barnett, who is free pending court proceedings in the case, did not respond to telephone messages left at his home yesterday seeking a comment on the charge. His attorney, Laura Robinson, disputed the charge in an interview.

"What I can tell you is, he vehemently denies the allegations and he's looking forward to his day in court," Robinson said. A trial is scheduled for Nov. 18.

She would not say whether Barnett is a member of the Army reserves, whether his unit had been called up, or whether he was, in fact, in Iraq. "Once the case is over I'll have more to say," she said.

Bergin said he is certain that Barnett was not deployed but was unsure of his precise military status. A spokeswoman for the Army said she could not immediately determine Barnett's status.