An FBI expert on organized crime complained in 1981 that higher-ups in the Federal Bureau of Investigation were mishandling the Mafia probe that years later led to the indictment of former labor secretary Raymond J. Donovan.

The accusation, according to an FBI report revealed in court today, was made by special agent Robert A. Levinson in a Feb. 27, 1981, interview during a long-secret internal FBI review of the Mafia investigation, code-named "Operation Tumcon." The FBI was divided on how to handle the fruits of Tumcon and Levinson was interviewed by a superior who was trying to decide whether the investigation was being handled properly. Levinson charged that only "the easy cases" growing out of the operation were being pursued.

By coincidence, on the same day that Levinson was complaining about his FBI superiors in New York, the Senate Labor Committee was holding its final hearing on Donovan's nomination to President Reagan's Cabinet. A top-ranking FBI official, Francis M. (Bud) Mullen Jr., executive assistant director for investigations, told the committee that a check of FBI wiretaps had produced "no reference to Mr. Donovan or the Schiavone Construction Co.," Donovan's firm.

Donovan's own lawyers said in court here this week, in an effort to win legal standing to challenge the Tumcon tapes, that Donovan, his company and other Schiavone executives were mentioned a total of 351 times in tapes made during the 1979 electronic surveillance.

There was no explicit mention at the Senate confirmation hearings of either Operation Tumcon or the internal FBI recriminations about it.

The documents produced during the FBI's in-house inquiry are coming to light now as a result of defense efforts in Bronx Supreme Court here to show that Tumcon was tainted and that the tapes should be suppressed.

Levinson began the organized crime investigation in 1978. In the 1981 internal FBI inquiry, he said one senior official in charge of organized crime activities in the New York area "did not know or care" about the Tumcon investigation and the agent in charge of the criminal division "was on his way to retirement and didn't want to be bothered."

Levinson said the investigation "had the enthusiasm of the agents working the case against some bad people, but didn't have the administrative support and manpower to follow through," the interview report said.

Levinson, the report continued, "admitted he has been accused of B.S.'ing about all the cases in the Tumcon investigation, but he firmly believes the cases are there and with evidence and independent investigation, they could be pursued and made."

Only two federal indictments grew out of Tumcon: for a hijacking ring and for a synthetic-cocaine conspiracy, both emanating from a South Bronx warehouse operated by the immediate target of the surveillance, a reputed Genovese crime family member named William P. Masselli.

Aside from the synthetic-cocaine case and the hijackings, Levinson told his interviewers that "he is aware of four other cases which they could presently go on and some others could be made with a little work." But he said the prosecutor in charge, then assistant U.S. attorney Michael Ross, apparently wanted to begin with "the made cases -- the hijackings -- and looks to the others as being down the road."

The U.S. attorney's office, it is known, did prepare a prosecutive summary on a possible minority-business fraud case against Masselli in connection with a company he had set up as a subcontractor for Schiavone Construction on a number of New York subway projects. It was not pursued at the federal level, however.

The Bronx district attorney's office picked up the threads in 1983 and secured a grand larceny and fraud indictment against Donovan, Masselli and eight other men last fall.