The owner of a Southeast Washington beauty academy was sentenced in U.S. District Court yesterday to serve a minimum of 2 1/2 years in prison for his conviction of 35 criminal charges that he illegally collected and kept more than $100,000 in federal tution grant money intended to help needy students.

James L. Sutton, 51, the founder of the Monique Beauty Academy, was found guilty last December by a jury of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and false statements that the government said he made in order to obtain the grant money.

Judge Joyce Hens Green, who presided at Sutton's trial, agreed to release Sutton on $10,000 cash bond pending any appeal of his conviction.

During the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Reardon III presented evidence that Sutton fabricated and altered school records to justify tuition grants for more than 100 "students" who never actually attended the school.

The money was supplied from 1976 through 1979 in Basic Education Opportunity grants through what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Reardon told Judge Green yesterday that in addition to more than $100,000 that was illegally held by Sutton, another $187,000 of grant money awarded to the school was unaccounted for.

Yesterday, at a sentencing hearing, Reardon described Sutton as an "intelligent, charismatic, experienced individual who systematically cheated, lied and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Reardon told the court that Sutton had "perverted the [basic grant] program and its goals" and he urged Green to order Sutton to serve a prison term to deter others from following Sutton's example of "easy money and quick riches at the expense of the community."

Sutton, who contended that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, told Judge Green yesterday, "This is a terrible way to end 31 years as a school owner, I am very saddening by the whole thing."

Specifically, Green sentenced Sutton to serve 15 to 45 months on the conspiracy conviction and a consecutive term of 15 to 45 months for obstruction of justice. Green also sentenced Sutton to a concurrent term of 15 to 45 months for his conviction of 33 counts of making false statements.