CHICAGO (AP) _ They lived in the posh, rarefied world of show horses, making bundles and hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

Behind the stables, the beauty of the sport turned beastly: Owners paid to have their horses electrocuted, maimed, even burned to death for insurance money, prosecutors said.

''The bottom line? G-R-E-E-D,'' said Bill Graham, an insurance investigator who travels the country to scrutinize suspicious horse deaths. The accused ''think they are going to live forever - and take every dollar to the grave and beyond.''

U.S. Attorney Jim Burns ticked off the charges at a news conference on Wednesday, naming 23 people from such comfortable confines as Greenwich, Conn., and Palm Beach, Fla. Burns called it a ''virtual who's who of the nation's equestrian industry.''

The charges developed from police work into the 1977 disappearance of candy heiress Helen Vorhees Brach. Her former boyfriend, stable owner Richard Bailey, was charged with arranging her killing after defrauding her in horse sales. He pleaded innocent.

The indictment describes 15 horses killed, most were electrocuted. Electrocution can be masked as colic, which can be deadly, Graham said.

One horse had its leg broken with a club as it was unloaded from a van. At least one was starved to death. Several others died when a man set fire to a horse trailer, the indictment alleges.

Among those charged was George Lindemann Jr., the son of cellular phone tycoon George Lindemann - worth $575 million according to Forbes magazine.

The younger Lindemann made his mark in the show ring. He rode his way to a berth on the 1985 U.S. Equestrian Team and in April, placed third in the American Invitational Grand Prix in Florida.

When Lindemann's horse, Charisma, proved not to be the winner he had hoped, he paid a man $25,000 to electrocute it at Cellular Farms Inc., the indictment said.

No one answered phones Thursday at the farm or at a Greenwich, Conn., residence listed to the younger Lindemann.

Another man charged, Paul Valliere, ''runs one of the best show barns in the east,'' Acres Wild Farm, said Vikki Karcher Siegel, a trainer at Snowbird Acres Farm in Schooley's Mountain, N.J.

Valliere, of North Smithfield, R.I., is accused of hiring a man to kill his barn's $75,000 horse, Roseau Platiere. There was no answer at Valliere's farm on Thursday.

Barney Ward, 53, of Brewster, N.Y., is charged with arranging the killing of four horses to collect $570,000 from insurance companies. Ward and his mount, Rapier, won the $50,000 Grand Prix of Florida in March. Rapier was not one of the horses killed.

Ward has won the Puissance three times. The Puissance is one of the most spectacular events of the National.

He could not be reached for comment; his phone number is unlisted.

As of Thursday, only Bailey was in police custody.

Before World War II, show horses belonged only to ''the very, very, very rich'' and insurance was unheard of, Graham said. But in the 1950s, show horses became big business.

''It was no longer a hobby,'' he said. ''People started putting their life savings up. ... When a horse went down, these people could see their whole lives going down the tubes. That's when greed came into play and it got sinister.''

Equestrians worried Thursday that the indictments might besmirch the reputations of legitimate horsemen.

''It hurts me,'' Siegel said. ''Ninety-eight percent of people in horses work very hard to support their horses. The 2 percent? We're very upset with what they've done.''