The Army is investigating allegations of widespread recruiter fraud in five states in what it says is probably its largest investigation into such abuses.

So far, the Army has relieved 47 recruiting sergeants of duty, brought court-martial charges against three of them, and relieved from command the head of the Charlotte recruiting district.

The investigation is focused in Charlotte, but has spread to recruiting districts in Boston, Dallas, Chicago and Montgomery, Ala.

Fifty-four Army investigators are checking allegations that recruiters have illegally coached unqualified enlistees on entrance tests, furnished bootleg exam copies to enlistees, and doctored education, criminal, birth and Social Security records, officials said.

"It's a pretty significant investigation," said Maj. Jeff Cook, Army spokesman at the Pentagon. "It's probably the biggest one that's ever been undertaken."

Pentagon officials said the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy also have investigated recruiter abuses in the past year, though on a smaller scale.

The investigation comes as the Army and other branches of the military face their worst recruitment year since the all-volunteer force began six years ago.

The Army has not determined yet whether the recruits who allegedly cheated on entrance exams are worse soldiers than those who did not. Cook said he does not believe any recruits have been disciplined, but said unqualified recruits could be discharged.

About 32 percent of the men and women who enlist each year leave the Army before completing a three-year enlistment, with a third of those leaving during basic training.

Army recruiters have met only 84.7 percent of their enlistment goals, signing up 109,745 recruits against a goal of 129,540 in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The Army reached 98.4 percent of its enlistment goal last year, its worst performance until now.

Air Force, Marine and Navy recruiters also fell short of enlistment goals for the last three consecutive calendar quarters, for the first time, according to the Department of Defense.

The Army investigation began in May after a Winston-Salem, N.C., recruiter said he had been given a bootleg copy of the entrance exam, called the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery.

Cook said a computer analysis of enlistment records later indicated possible cheating or coaching in the four other cities. He said investigators may check other recruiting districts later.

The Army staffs 57 recruiting districts across the country with about 5,000 recruiters in 1,564 offices in hundreds of cities.

So far, the Army has relieved from duty 27 of the 55 recruiters in the Charlotte district, which covers western and central North Carolina and four counties in South Carolina. Three of the Charlotte recruiters were also charged with court-martial offenses.

Thirteen recruiters have also been relieved in Dallas, four in Montgomery and three in Chicago. None have been relieved in Boston.

Brig. Gen. Donald Connelly, who is heading the investigation as deputy commander of the Army recruiting command at Fort Sheridan, Ill., this week removed from command Lt. Col. Edward Walker, who headed the Charlotte recruiting district. v. alker, 40, who has received eight service and combat awards in his 20 years in the Army, declined comment.

Air Force investigators are checking in a separate but similar investigation whether 29 recruiters in 18 separate locations coached enlistees for the entrance exam, an aide, Capt. Sherry Statson, said. The exam is used by all branches of the military.

The Marine Corps revised its recruiting program last year after disciplining a total of 104 recruiters for various offenses. Spokesman Maj. Paul Chapman said no other investigations are pending.

The Navy relieved the commander of its recruiting district in Newark, N.J., in June after investigators found apparently falsified records. Navy officials would not say if other recruiters are being investigated.

Recruiting usually is considered a plum assignment for noncommissioned officers. Those who successfully meet their monthly quotas can make up to $150 a month in extra incentive pay, be given special cars, and win awards, trophies and letters of commendation. Those who fail, however, can receive damaging efficiency reports in their military records and be relieved of duty.

More than a dozen of the Charlotte area recruiters met Thursday night and issued a statement blaming "what appears as inflationary requirements for national defense" for the abuses. The statement indicated the group would put their case before members of Congress.

Mark Waple, one of two attorneys who represent the group, said the recruiters feel "unfairly singled out" by the investigation but declined comment on whether the recruiters deny the allegations.

Sen. Robert Morgan (D-N.C.) attacked the Army investigation Wednesday, saying recruiters face such ENORMOUS quota pressures from their superiors and threats to their careers that they must resort to these tactics or be ruined for the rest of their Army career."

Morgan said it is "also obvious that some officers in charge of the recruiting districts and the recruiting command tolerate, condone and encourage this behavior."

Morgan, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he doesn't believe the Army's contention that most recruiters don't cheat.

"The fact is that most of them do, but the Army has only been able to catch part of them," he said. "In fact, I don't think the Army has tried very hard to catch them or to correct the problem the Army recognizes exists."

Morgan called on the Army to stop investigating the recruiters, and focus instead on the reasons for the cheating. He said he probably will ask for an investigation by the Armed Services Committee.

Cook defended the Army investigation as "a serious matter," but said the Army had no comment on Morgan's statement.

As a result of the investigation, Cook said, the Army last month set up a watchdog group called the Quality Assurance Directorate at Fort Sheridan in Illinois to investigate and revise recruiter training and testing.

The Army also recently has attempted to increase enlistments by offering extra educational benefits, lowering entrance standards for women and accepting 17-year-old male high school dropouts.