The former chairman of the Emerson's restaurant chain was sentenced to four months in prison yesterday for filing false statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission about the company's financial status and filing false personal income tax returns.

John P. Radnay, 37, was given at least 30 days within which to report to a designated federal prison - probably the minimum security camp at Eglin AFB, Fla., since Radnay and his family now live in that state. After serving the sentence, he will be on three years' probation.

U.S. District Chief Judge William B. Bryant imposed the sentence on Radnay, a former Justice Department lawyer, despite pleas by Radnay and his lawyer that he had suffered enough by pleading guilty to crimes and being bombarded with civil suits growing out of the Emerson's operation.

Defense attorney Seymour Glanzer argued on Radnay's behalf that the publicity surrounding the Emerson's scandal had severely affected Radnay and his family, and that no purpose would be served by putting Radnay in prison.

He suggested instead that Ranay be allowed to serve the community by using his expertise to work with a plan whereby meals are made available to the elderly and poor.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William S. Block of the fraud division said, however, that a prison term of some length was necessary to deter other businessmen from committing similar crimes.

"The government is not seeking retribution, but is seeking equal justice for all types of crimes, white-collar or otherwise," Block said.

Radnay's possible criminal involvement first surfaced two years ago when the SEC reported it had uncovered a variety of illegalities within the Rockville-based corporation, ranging grom demanding and accepting payoffs from beer, liquor and wine companies to lying to the government investigators and falsifying company profits.

His guilty pleas came to two counts - one involving his inflating of Emerson's inventory of "ball tip" steaks as higher-priced filet mignon to boost the company's inventory, and the other involving his failure to report at least $10,000 in income on his personal income tax return for calendar year 1974.

A massive SEC report on the Emerson's operation said Radnay had used the publicly-owned company's coffers to do alleged "corporate" work around his house at 9700 Clydesdale St., Potomac. That work included a swimming pool deck and driveway, mirrors, and an interior decorator for a nursery and library, the report said.

More than 1,200 persons had invested in Emerson's at the time of Radnay's financial abuses. The restaurant chain became well-known from its start becasuse of its original plan offering all the beer one could drink with meals and an unlimitd salad offering.