The Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. prosecutors yesterday began a probe of apparently fraudulent petitions submitted by the Republican presidential campaigns of Sen. Robert J. Dole (Kan.) and Alexander M. Haig Jr. in order to qualify for the Texas primary election.

The investigation is not only a major embarrassment to both campaigns at the start of the primary season but also raises the possibility that both men will be barred from the March 8 Texas primary on "Super Tuesday." With 111 Republican National Convention delegates, Texas is the largest of 17 states holding primaries or caucuses that day.

William E. Brock, Dole's campaign chairman, issued a statement acknowledging that fraudulent petitions had been filed with the Texas Republican Party. He suggested, however, that the blame may belong to a contractor and subcontractor used by the Dole and Haig campaigns to collect the signatures:

"News accounts {in the Dallas Morning News} that there appears to be a number of fraudulent names on our ballot petitions in Texas appear to be correct. To the best of our knowledge, there are more than enough legitimate names to qualify . . . but it appears the names were submitted by a subcontractor to a firm we hired to compile the petitions. We are outraged. We've been had, and no one likes to be had. We will find out everything we can, and take appropriate action."

Dole and Haig both hired Southern Political Consultants and U.S. Voter Data, related Houston firms, to help compile the petition names. Almost all the disputed names were of black and Hispanic voters in Houston. Tom Pauken, cochairman of Dole's Texas campaign, owns a large percentage of U.S. Voter Data, according to officials of the firm.

Texas GOP Chairman George Strake announced yesterday that he had called in the FBI and U.S. Attorney Helen Eversberg to investigate the charges of fradulent petitions.

John Weaver, executive director of the Texas GOP, said: "We're talking about felonies being committed, and the party is not going to sit here and let the integrity of the Republican ballot stand for nothing."

Under Republican Party rules in Texas, candidates seeking to get on the presidential primary ballot must submit petitions with the valid signatures of at least 5,000 registered voters. Dole submitted an estimated 8,100 names just before the deadline on the evening of Jan. 4 and Haig submitted 5,800.

Vice President Bush, Pat Robertson, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and former Delaware governor Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV all submitted petitions that have not been challenged.

The Dallas Morning News conducted an independent investigation into all the petitions and found, in the case of Haig and Dole, many signatures that appeared to be in the same handwriting as the persons conducting the petition drive, who also sign the petitions. In addition, many of the supposed voters on the petitions said, when contacted by the newspaper, that they had not signed the forms, and had never heard of Dole or Haig. One Dole petition had the signature of a woman, Ann Horak, who has been dead for five years.

The FBI removed the Dole and Haig petitions from party headquarters in Austin yesterday morning. Byron Sage, of the Austin FBI office, said, "If there is, in fact, a federal violation, we may well send them back to Washington to our laboratory division to have them analyze handwriting, fingerprints, that sort of thing . . . . It's a priority matter. It'll be given priority attention." Eversberg said the investigation will attempt to determine whether election law, mail fraud statutes and civil rights laws have been violated.

Kevin Burnette, of both Southern Political Consultants and U.S. Voter Data, said in an interview that U.S. Voter supplied lists of registered voters to the campaigns of Haig, Dole, du Pont and Bush. These lists include the voters' certification number, which must be included with the petitions.

Along with providing the voter lists, Southern Political Consultants hired day workers from temporary labor agencies for the Dole and Haig campaigns.

These workers either canvassed specific neighborhoods using petition lists with names and addresses already filled in by SPC, requiring only the signatures, or went to places such as shopping centers or churches to get signatures.

These workers, according to Burnette, were either paid hourly wages of $3.35 to $5, or by the signature, from 25 to 50 cents each.

He said 2,000 to 3,000 names were collected in this fashion for Dole and about 4,000 names for Haig, at a combined cost to the two campaigns of about $12,000. "I know of no irregularities," Burnette said. "I think Bob Dole is going to be on the ballot, and I think Al Haig is going to be on the ballot."

He then added, however: "I think that it's obvious there are some problems. It's obvious that it was in the 11th hour that these campaigns came to us for help. In the 11th hour, people get sloppy." Burnette estimated that the Dole and Haig signatures were roughly 85 percent black and Hispanic, two groups generally considered to be supporters of the Democratic Party.