Port Everglades executives worried so much about their offices being bugged that one of them met in the parking lot with a private detective to order an investigation of labor union critics, records and interviews reveal.

During tense times for the public seaport two years ago, Deputy Director Gene Ciccarelli would not talk in detail on the telephone or within the government offices. Instead, records and interviews show, he requested the investigation while sitting in a private eye's car."He wanted to walk me to my car because he just wanted to discuss some things," said Joseph Lodge, who works for the Business Risks International security firm. "To either talk in the conference room or talk in the confines of the building wasn't smart."

Business Risks later swept the port headquarters for electronic listening devices, but it didn't find any. It also began investigating union leader Alexander "Doc" Cullison and some of his union colleagues, checking for lawsuits, criminal charges and business ventures, according to documents examined by the Miami Herald.

Mr. Ciccarelli has denied through a port spokesman that he ever ordered such work. His attorney, Tom Shahady, reiterated Mr. Ciccarelli's words.

''He just denies that it occurred," Mr. Shahady said. "I can't tell you why they're saying what they're saying. But I can tell you he denies he ever requested that investigation."

The disclosures are contained in company records turned over to Mr. Cullison by Business Risks International as part of Mr. Cullison's lawsuit against Port Everglades, Mr. Ciccarelli and Commissioner Walter Browne.

The suit alleges that the port retaliated against Mr. Cullison after he requested a state audit and tried to blow the whistle on what he thought were questionable port practices.

''It appears that Port Everglades and Ciccarelli did some wholesale investigation of our labor organization, at the port's expense," Mr. Cullison said. "That's, I think, certainly an abuse of public trust."

Business Risks' records show that Mr. Ciccarelli met with Mr. Lodge, the company's Miami office manager, on Sept. 1, 1989.

About that same time, newspapers were reporting instances of improper spending and mismanagement at the port. Taxpayers filled the chambers in protest when port commissioners decided shortly after that to impose their first countywide property tax in six years.

Business Risks, whose officers include several former federal agents, was hired to perform what it called an "investigation of Industrial Espionage at Port Everglades."

Business Risks and the port are now involved in a billing dispute over the work. The company says the port owes $30,000, but the port won't pay.

Business Risks has agreed to drop its $3,314 bill for the Cullison investigation in an effort to get paid the rest of the money.

At one point during its investigation, the records show, the company conferred with Mr. Ciccarelli about conducting a sweep for electronic bugs at the home of then-Director Joel Alesi. But Mr. Alesi nixed the idea.

''That had been a consideration, but they elected not to do it," Mr. Lodge said. "Alesi, I think, concluded that it was an improper use of the

funds they had available for them to do his own home."

Records show the entire investigation was called off by Mr. Ciccarelli after only a few days.

Mr. Lodge said he didn't know for sure why Port Everglades had wanted to investigate Mr. Cullison and other executives of the Federation of Public Employees, District 1 MEBA/NMU.

''Other than they felt there was a possibility they were getting information that was not being obtained properly concerning the activity of the port," Mr. Lodge said.

''They simply asked for a very brief, cursory background investigation and we got started on it," he said. "And it ended even before we even got into it."