The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial religious leader who was found guilty of conspiracy and tax fraud in May, was sentenced today to 18 months behind bars.

The 62-year-old evangelist, who once testified that he has "the possibility of becoming the real Messiah," was also sentenced to pay the prosecution's cost in the two-month proceeding as well as $25,000 in fines.

There was no response from the defendant at sentencing in U.S. District Court here.

In a courtroom filled with followers, Moon sat with eyes downcast throughout the proceeding. He declined to speak on his behalf before sentencing, as did his co-defendant, Takeru Kamiyama, who was given a six-month jail term and $5,000 fine.

Shortly after the sentencing, in which he faced a possible jail term of 14 years, Moon shook hands with his five-man team of attorneys and left through a back door. Post-trial commentary, in the traditional court-steps manner, was left to an angry Mose Durst, president of the Unification Church of America.

"God was on trial," he said, and, calling the decision religious discrimination, said the Unification Church would appeal. Until then, Moon is free on $250,000 bond. He has 10 days to file an appeal, a process that often takes from nine months to a year to complete.

The sentence had appeased "a blood lust, a let's-go-get-him-if-we-don't-like-him" attitude that was, Durst said, "an old story."

"Because he's a yellow man and he comes from another country, he was on trial," Durst said.

"If Rev. Moon gets it, watch out Cardinal Cody, watch out Cardinal Cooke . . . . "

Durst was attempting to imply that the government could single out someone like the late Chicago cardinal, John P. Cody, who had been the subject of a federal investigation, or someone who has never been accused, such as New York's Roman Catholic bishop, Terrence Cooke. U.S. District Court Judge Gerard N. Goettel, however, in passing sentence, said he did not consider it proper for a federal court "to consider the religious nature of the church, pro or con."

While personal considerations always weigh in sentencing, he said, in "the final analysis . . . the crime dictates the sentence more than anything else."

A special consideration he could not ignore in sentencing Moon, Goettel said, was the importance of a jail term as a "general deterrent."

"Otherwise," the judge said, "millions will say that the poor go to jail and the rich and powerful, who can afford lawyers like those who have represented Mr. Moon, go free."

Moon, whose Unification Church claims 30,000 followers in this country and 3 million worldwide, was convicted May 18 of failing to report $162,000 in income to the Internal Revenue Service.

Co-defendant Kamiyama--a church member so devoted that, according to his attorney, he sold his blood to support the Unification Church in the early days in Korea--was found guilty of conspiracy, aiding in the filing of false returns, obstruction, submitting false documents and perjury.

He could have been fined as much as $95,000 and given 51 years in prison.

At issue was $1.6 million in a Chase Manhattan Bank account in Moon's name and whether the money belonged personally to Moon or to the church. The government charged that, from 1973 to 1975, Moon failed to report $112,000 in interest from that account, as well as $50,000 in income from stock in a ginseng tea company.

Defense attorneys argued that the two defendants did not understand U.S. tax laws.

Today, the question of guilt and innocence behind them, the defense attorneys argued only that the defendants not go to jail.

Chief defense lawyer Charles A. Stillman, in an impassioned plea, spoke of the "extraordinary good works that Rev. Moon has done around the world" and said that Moon had "been punished already by our system."

He urged a suspended sentence, although it would be "a most difficult thing" with the "public blood lust for Sun Myung Moon."

Another defense attorney, Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, repeated the theme of religious persecution. A jail term for Moon, he said, would "send a chill through the entire religious community, making them feel there but for the Internal Revenue or the attorney general's office go we."

He also spoke of the thousands of letters sent the judge on Moon's behalf.

Prosecutors, who spoke briefly during the 1 1/2-hour proceeding, denied that religious discrimination was at issue.

"We have dealt with both as we would deal with any other high-ranking businessman and his chief financial aide who used their organization to avoid personal tax," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jo Ann Harris said.

Goettel, before announcing the sentence, noted that religious leaders were not strangers to his courtroom. He had two rabbis before him for "white-collar offenses" recently, he noted, and had also received many letters affirming their good character--the most letters he had received on behalf on a defendant until this time, he said.

He also said that he had seen the material the church had sent out to solicit those letters, and that those materials "did not accurately present the evidence presented to the jury, material presented to the jury or the verdict in the case."

He did not doubt the sincerity of the letters from Moon's followers, the judge said. Goettel said he also did not doubt the sincerity of the letters from the parents of Unification Church members.

Nonetheless, the religious issue was not relevant, he said. "I told the jury when this case began it would be a holy quest. A quest for justice . . . and that the Rev. Moon would be treated as anyone else would be, with no consequence of religious belief or race."

Arriving in the United States in 1972--using young people to spread his word and underwrite his church--Moon has been an object of scrutiny and legal investigations.

Parents of his followers, often called "Moonies," and former church members have charged Moon with "brainwashing" or exploiting young church members, many of whom, it is claimed, have not only been discouraged from contact with their family, but have also, it is alleged, worked long hours for subsistence wages, while Moon lives on a suburban New York estate and travels by limousine.

"The thrust of the theology is that Adam and Eve were supposed to be the true parents, but messed up; and that Jesus never got the chance to be the true parent, being betrayed, and that Moon and his wife are the true parents," said Steven Hassan, a former fund-raiser and director for the church."The members," he said, "refer to Moon as 'Father.' "

Hassan now heads a 400-member group of people who have left the church, and has worked for the past four years as a "deprogrammer."

Recruitment methods, according to Hassan and Jim McCaan, a Unification Church member for 11 years, included "love bombing," a technique under which, Hassan said, recruits were "completely isolated from family and friends, not given much time to think, surrounded."

Joy Irvine, the church's director of public affairs, denied the church has ever had a policy of separating parents from children or supplanting their parents with Moon.

"Calling Rev. Moon 'True Parent' is like calling the pope 'Father' or a priest 'Father.' It is a recognition of the type of esteem you feel for that leader," she said.

As for the "love-bombing" recruitment technique, there was, she said flatly, "no technique . . . .

"Love bombing is simply a slang word that somebody invented sometime for giving love to people. I think love is what our society needs more than anything else in the world. Anybody who's down on love has a serious emotional problem."