The two Reckmeyer brothers from McLean seemed to do things in a big way.

In 1980 Christopher F. Reckmeyer, then 29, bought a sprawling $1.7 million horse country estate in Loudoun County -- and paid cash.

His younger brother, Robert B. Reckmeyer, lived on a Fauquier County horse country farm and traded millions of dollars worth of African emeralds, Thai rubies and Chinese rugs.

Federal prosecutors have said that the brothers, from a family of 11 children, lived and worked on a scale that seemed lavish even in Virginia's hunt country. In a 122-page indictment of Christopher and Robert Reckmeyer and 24 others, prosecutors alleged that from a few marijuana sales in 1972 at Langley High School in McLean, the Reckmeyers built a marijuana and hashish empire that stretched from coast to coast and grossed more than $100 million in the past 10 years.

Though the alleged Reckmeyer operation is supposed to have run longer than most drug rings in the United States, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Robert Feldkamp said it used methods typical of most national drug syndicates: It mushroomed from a small-time operation with a few contacts to one generating vast profits, and laundered money through legitimate front companies.

"Nothing has been proven," said John M. Dowd, attorney for Robert Reckmeyer, 30, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of drug and gun trafficking, tax violations, and pressuring a grand jury witness. "Most of the government's claims come from unindicted coconspirators who have criminal records. You can be sure I'll argue that point hotly at trial," Dowd said.

The story of the Loudoun-based operation that prosecutors and the grand jury describe is a tale of how the two brothers and a third man, from Waldorf, Md., and known to some as "Loose Bruce," masterminded a drug ring from a historic Colonial farm on the western fringe of the Washington suburbs. The ring dealt in marijuana by the boatload and shuttled the drugs from a dozen warehouses in the Washington area to dealers along the East Coast, investigators say. Once they allegedly paid $2 million in cash for 12 tons delivered to Long Island.

Prosecutors say that the ring's profits were funneled into 15 companies that dealt in costly Chinese carpets, rare Thai and African gems, silk tapestries, gold and silver bullion, jewelry and organic vegetables.

Christopher Reckmeyer -- called the Boss, the Rug Man and Big Brother -- and Robert Reckmeyer -- known as Little Brother, Robo and Blondie -- financed their purchases of hundreds of acres of prime horse country farmland and a condominium in the Virgin Islands with the proceeds, according to the indictment. Authorities believe some of the alleged bounty may have been buried on their Virginia estates, where police divers have searched a 30-acre man-made lake.

Christopher Reckmeyer surrendered Friday in Alexandria and has yet to enter a plea to the drug trafficking charges he faces. He will be arraigned Wednesday. He and Robert Reckmeyer, who was arrested Jan. 15, are being held without bond in the D.C. Jail, pending their trial March 18 in Alexandria.

Eleven others have been arrested, and authorities are seeking 13 more.

The profits they allegedly made from dealing in more than 293 tons of drugs during the past decade "would be the envy of most corporate structures in America," according to Steven Zimmerman, a senior attorney at the DEA.

Robert Reckmeyer alone made more than $9.5 million from drug sales since he was graduated from high school in 1972, Virginia State Police investigator Steven Straka has testified in Alexandria U.S. District Court.

Raised in one of Washington's most affluent suburbs, the brothers appear unlikely defendants in a major drug case.

"Straight as a pin," is how Beryl Reed Valverde of Fairfax described Christopher Reckmeyer, a tall man with a bushy reddish beard who played varsity football in high school. "He was the kind of guy who brought his dates to the malt shop."

Christopher Reckmeyer owned Shelburne Glebe, the 1,000-acre horse country estate four miles west of Leesburg where the drug ring supposedly was based. Neighbors of the estate said they considered the young owner aloof and found his life style unusual: He shunned medicine and did not smoke, drink or eat food that was not grown organically.

He was a churchgoing man, according to one farmhand who said Reckmeyer sent his two sons to a Christian school because he feared that they would be exposed to drugs in public schools.

Little is known about Robert, a blond man with a slight build and a drooping mustache. He lived first in Fauquier and then on a farm in Centreville, where his neighbors say he kept to himself. Valverde remembers Robert Reckmeyer as "different than Chris. . . . He hung around with the hippie crowd."

Federal prosecutors will say little about how their investigation, called "Operation Flying Carpet," began in March 1983. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen P. Tandy said it started after a similar Northern Virginia drug case, one involving an operation based near Tysons Corner that handled 130 tons of hashish and marijuana in nine years.

One of the key figures indicted but never arrested in that case, Leon D. Harvey, is listed among the 26 people indicted in the Reckmeyer case. Harvey and Bruce W. Thomason of Waldorf, the third alleged leader of the Reckmeyer ring, remain at large.

Prosecutors said that in its effort to crack the ring, the government worked for 22 months and used 120 law officers. According to the indictment, officials relied heavily on information furnished by some of the ring's couriers and middlemen. Tandy said law officers seized financial records they say corroborate a considerable amount of the information from 27 unnamed informants.

She also said in court that some "witnesses were in fear for their lives." The indictment charges that Robert Reckmeyer pressured at least one grand jury witness to perjure himself. In addition to 23 counts of drug, tax and firearms violations, Robert Reckmeyer is charged with intimidating a grand jury witness.

Using informants and the ring's financial records, investigators say, they pieced together several of the operation's transactions. One of the largest deals outlined in the indictment allegedly occurred in Hilton Head, S.C., in June 1980.

Carrying two suitcases stuffed with nearly $1.8 million, Robert Reckmeyer went to the resort to make a down payment on 13,000 pounds of hashish, Virginia State Police investigator Straka has told U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris. Emeralds and rubies paid the $665,000 balance for the Hilton Head hashish, according to court records.

The transaction allegedly set off one of many laundering sequences followed by the ring: On June 17, 1980, Christopher Reckmeyer paid a New York City gem dealer $143,000 for a 6.08-carat ruby. Reckmeyer then allegedly sold the ruby to an unidentified customer for $234,000.

An informant, however, told the grand jury that Reckmeyer delivered a 6.08-carat ruby to him on June 17, 1980, in a warehouse in Merrifield as partial payment of the 13,000 pounds of hashish, the indictment said.

Prosecutors said the maneuver showed Reckmeyer with a large and seemingly legitimate profit from the sale of the gem and masked his illicit drug profits.

Virginia police investigator Straka described how the Reckmeyers transported drug loads, testifying two weeks ago in Alexandria that Robert Reckmeyer directed 13 drivers to load 13 pickup trucks to drive the Hilton Head hashish to Virginia and Maryland along I-95.

The sums of cash routinely allegedly transported by members of the drug ring exceeded most people's lifetime incomes. Among the largest transactions listed in the indictment:

* In December 1978, at a stash house on Hooes Road in Fairfax, Robert Reckmeyer paid $1 million in cash for a shipload of marijuana.

* In late January 1980, Robert Reckmeyer paid $750,000 in cash as partial payment for 10,000 pounds of marijuana in Loudoun County and Warrenton, Va.

* In October 1983, Thomason, the third alleged kingpin, delivered two boxes containing $850,000 in cash and 32 Oriental rugs to an undercover DEA agent in Northampton County, on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

To obscure their trail, prosecutors say, the drug ring members frequently used pay telephones, telephone answering services and unlisted toll free numbers, as well as a barrage of aliases.

Christopher Reckmeyer exclusively used pay telephones for his alleged drug business, the indictment said. Last month, according to a court affidavit, a Fairfax County police officer saw him carry a large bag of quarters into the Ramada Inn at Tysons Corner and make several long-distance calls. Court papers report one of his alleged conversations: "Tomorrow . . . 10 o'clock we will have a shipment."

Another Fairfax County shopping mall was the alleged site of a submachine gun exchange, according to a court affidavit. An informant said that Robert Reckmeyer directed him in November 1981 to go to Fair Oaks Mall to get a "number of fully automatic weapons," including an Israeli military Uzi, from one member of the ring.

At the same time, the affidavit states, Gregory A. Jarrett, one of those indicted, also gave the informant a number of silencers fashioned for machine guns, which the informant distributed to persons in Massachusetts and Maryland.

The informant, identified only as John Doe No. 10, alleged in the affidavit that Robert Reckmeyer often gave him more than $100,000 in cash to purchase marijuana and hashish, and that he once saw a green plastic trash bag filled with U.S. currency in Robert Reckmeyer's home. The informant stated that the trash bag appeared to be wet and mildewed, as though it had until recently been buried in the ground.

If convicted of the charges, prosecutors say, the Reckmeyer brothers face life imprisonment without parole.

The brothers began defending themselves against the government investigation months before the indictments were returned, challenging some actions taken by federal prosecutors and the grand jury.

Robert Reckmeyer won at least a tentative court victory in that fight when an appellate court agreed that he does not have to release some subpoenaed personal records because the Fifth Amendment guarantees his right against self incrimination.

That case is being appealed by the Justice Department to the Supreme Court, and another issue, whether or not prosecutor Tandy and two investigators improperly read some confidential court papers during the grand jury investigation, is before an appeals court in Richmond.