A special ethics panel yesterday cleared Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan of conflict of interest in his support of a statebacked loan for a firm represented by his wife.

Democrat William H. McGrath, one of the three members of the advisory committee, characterized the charges against the Republican county executive as "a witch hunt" that interfered with his official discretion.

"Somebody was simply making a mountain out of a molehill," McGrath said.

The committee met behind closed doors for several hours yesterday morning and then issued a one-sentence opinion saying "there was no conflict of interest on the part of the county executive" in the matter.

Marion E. West, the chairman of the panel and also a Democrat, said the decision was unanimous, but at least some members thought "certain things might have been handled a little better" had they been in Hogan's position.

Hogan said he was pleased but not surprised by the committee's formal finding.

The all-Democratic County Council had asked Hogan to seek an ethics committee ruling on his support for a request by District Moving and Storage Inc. of Bladensburg for a low-interest loan sponsored by the Maryland Industrial Financing Authority.

Hogan's wife, Ilona, the active partner in the Hogan and Hogan law firm, had represented the company on other matters and attended an initial meeting with state officials on the loan proposal. She said that she withdrew from the negotiations after hearing that her husband's endorsement was required.

The loan would have come from the state authority but would require the support of the county executive and council.

After the council asked Hogan to submit the matter to the County Ethics Board, Hogan agreed. But the board's term had expired, and Hogan named a special advisory committee last week to deal with the issue.

McGrath said West had served on the old board and were named to the special committee. The Rev. Ronald D. Fenwick, a Republican, was the other appointee.