Louis Michael Parrish, convicted former operator of a major Washington-area prostitution ring, testified yesterday he funneled $500 monthly cash payments for more than three years to former Alexandria prosecutor William L. Cowhig too avoid prosecution.

Parrish, 33, testified the cash payments were transmitted to Cowhig through prominent Alexandria lawyer James I. Burkhardt, whose trial on conspiracy and racketeering charges growing out of his role as attorney for a string of Parrish-owned massage parlors started yesterday.

Parrish, convicted last year on felony charges of operating one of the area's largest prostitution rings, also said he believed his former chief lieutenant paid off a former Alexandria health inspector to keep the parlors in operation.

Plans to attempt to bribe a third Alexandria official were called off after an FBI raid on Parrish's home and business in May 1978, Parrish testified.

"Is your testimony that Cowhig got results for you?" Parrish was asked at one point during his testimony in the crowded federal courtroom in Alexandria. o

"There's no question about it," Parrish replied. "I operated successfully for approximately four years after we came to some sort of arrangement," referring to the alleged payoff scheme.

According to Parrish, Burkhardt alerted him in advance to police raids on his parlors, briefed him on the results of police interviews with the ring's employes and gave him descriptions of undercover members of the Alexandria vice squad. Parrish said it was clear to him that Cowhig was the source of the inside information and relayed it to him through Burkhardt.

Burkhardt, a former president of the Alexandria Bar Association, has pleaded innocent to charges that he conspired with Parrish to make the alleged payoffs.

Parrish testified that Cowhig was never present in the room when he, Parrish, personally handed the money to Burkhardt each month. But on two separate occasions, Parrish said, Cowhig arrived at Burkhardt's law offices immediately after Parish delivered the money.

Parrish's testimony was the first public confirmation that a much-publicized, two-year federal investigation into possible official corruption in Alexandria involved allegations of payoffs to former prosecutor Cowhig. The Burkhardt indictment does not mention Cowhig by name.

Cowhig resigned a year ago after being acquitted at two trials on state charges related to illegal bingo operations in Alexandria. In one trial, a jury found Cowhig innocent of receiving $32,000 in bribes from the city's former leading bingo operator.

Cowhig, who testified before the federal grand jury, has moved to Florida. Burkhardt's lawyers declined to say yesterday whether he will be called to testify for the defense. Cowhig has not been indicted in connection with the ongoing federal probe.

But in an opening statement to the jury, chief defense lawyer Kenneth Michael Robinson said Cowhig is the target of the federal corruption investigation, and that federal officials indicted Burkhardt to force him to give evidence against his "old friend" Cowhig.

"They (the government) want Cowhig," Robinson asserted. "They can't get Cowhig unless his friend turns on him." Robinson has previously told reporters that Burkhardt knew nothing about payments to Cowhig.

Robinson told the jury that Burkhardt simply gave legal advice to his former client, Parrish, and that Burkhardt did not take an active role in Parrish's sex business.

Parrish later testified that Burkhardt was "an intimate adviser on almost everthing I did."

When FBI agents staged a massive raid on his operation in late May 1978, Parrish testified, he wrapped $80,000 in cash from his operation in a jacket loaned him by Burkhardt the day before. When he arrived at Burkhardt's office with the money, Parrish said Burkhardt got nervous. "Don't bring the money here wrapped in my jacket because the FBI might be following you," Parrish quoted Burkhardt as saying.

Once, Parrish said, Burkhardt advised him the operation would probably run better if he gave up disguising the sex business as a massage and outcall dating service. Burkhardt, Parrish said, "told me to forget the parlors and set up four or five houses of prostitution."

According to Parrish, one of Burkhardts most valuable services was his ability to learn from Cowhig about efforts by the Alexandria police to monitor and investigate Parrish's operation.

Parrish said he began making monthly $500 payments to Cowhig through Burkhardt after the three met at a Crystal City restaurant in late 1974. There was no discussion of payoffs at the meeting, Parrish said, but Cowhig told him he had no interest in enforcing local massage parlor ordinances or state prostitution laws.

Later, Parrish said, he and Burkhardt "came to an arrangement of paying $500 a month to Jim (Burkhardt) and Jim would pay it to Bill Cowhig."

In early 1978, he said, the alleged payoffs were increased to $750-a-month at Burkhardt's suggestion. "Jim (Burkhardt) made some comment that the price of living is going up," Parrish recalled under oath yesterday.

When City Attorney Cyril D. Calley whose office is separate from the chief prosecutor's office, made efforts to enforce city massage parlor ordinances, Parrish said, he and Burkhardt discussed bribing Calley also. Burkhardt, Parrish said, "told me that the protection paid for Cowhig did not include Calley."

Parrish said the plan was to fly Calley to Aruba, a Caribbean island resort, and make the payoff pitch to Calley there. But before they approached Calley, Parrish said, the FBI raided Parrish's business and the Calley bribery plan fell by the wayside.

Parrish and two former top assistants were convicted last year on conspiracy and interstate racketeering charges related to his prostitution business. Parrish was sentenced to five years in prison. He began cooperating with the government almost immediately after his conviction.

Defense lawyer Robinson argues that the cooperation is aimed at getting a reduced sentence.