BALTIMORE, JULY 26 -- The former president of a generic drug company was sentenced today to two years in prison and fined $50,000 for plying key Food and Drug Administration officials with illicit gifts to speed approval of his products.

Described by prosecutors as the "most egregious" of several drug company executives convicted in recent months, Raju V. Vegesna, 42, former head of American Therapeutics Inc., of Bohemia, N.Y., was ordered by U.S. District Judge John R. Hargrove to report to prison Sept. 26. He will be allowed to remain free on personal bond until then.

Vegesna is the most recent of 13 drug executives, drug firms, consultants and FDA officials to plead guilty or be sentenced in an ongoing investigation into bribery and fraud in the FDA and the lucrative generic drug industry it regulates. Vegesna's is the stiffest prison term handed down so far.

Generic drugs are discount versions of brand-name products whose exclusive marketing patents have expired, making them available for copying.

Investigators say this has created an atmosphere in which fraud and corruption flourished among generic drug companies rushing to get the products approved by the FDA and marketed before their competitors.

Attorneys for Vegesna sought to minimize his guilt, saying in court papers that the "business culture" of Vegesna's native India permits merchants to "provide personal gifts to government officials {to} ensure that unfounded negative actions are not taken against one's business."

Defense attorney Nathan Lewin also said today that Vegesna's reluctance to cooperate with investigators was based on fears of becoming a "total outcast" in India.

Judge Hargrove and prosecutor Gary P. Jordan brushed aside those claims. "We live in a melting pot of many cultures," said Jordan, "but the court shouldn't hesitate to eradicate any unlawful customs that have slipped into the melting pot."

He said Vegesna gave more than $60,000 in cash and other presents to four review chemists in the FDA's generic drug division in a 14-month period in the mid-1980s.

Vegesna, he said, also ordered employees to alter subpoenaed documents in an effort to hide records from the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee investigating his industry. The records originally showed that Vegesna had shipped $13,000 in furniture and computer equipment to Charles Y. Chang, a top FDA review chemist. Chang has pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $10,000.

In another case, Jordan said, review chemist Jan T. Sturm accepted $20,000 in cash from Vegesna after providing American Therapeutics with insider information to accelerate approval of its antidepressant drug Trazodone Hydrochloride in 1986. Sturm also pleaded guilty.