The government yesterday filed criminal charges against an attorney who practiced at a top Wall Street law firm, alleging he sold confidential information about planned corporate takeovers as part of a complex stock-trading scheme that netted participants more than $4 million in illegal insider trading profits.

The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office charged Steven L. Glauberman, an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom -- one of the country's leading specialists in mergers and acquisitions law -- with four counts of conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud.

The 38-year-old Glauberman, a graduate of Princeton University and New York University Law School, faces penalties of up to $1 million and 20 years in jail.

The government says Glauberman received $50,000 in cash payments in exchange for providing confidential information to Eben Putnam Smith, a stockbroker who worked in the Stamford, Conn., office of Smith Barney & Co. and then at Gruntal and Co.

The illegal leaks of information occurred from January 1984 through June 1988, government attorneys said, and concerned deals ranging from Allied Corp.'s merger with Signal Co. to Walt Disney Co.'s takeover bid for Gibson Greetings.

Earle Yaffa, managing director of Skadden Arps, said attorneys at the firm were "saddened and disturbed" by the government action against Glauberman, whom they had thought to be a model young attorney.

The firm allowed Glauberman to stay on the payroll from the fall of 1988, when the government's investigation began, until last month, when it became clear the government would take formal action as a result of its probe.

"The government has indicated to us that they are not aware of anyone else in our firm who is involved," Yaffa said.

The government also filed criminal charges against Smith and against two others who allegedly received inside information from Smith and used it to profit.

Peter Jeffer, an investment banker, was among those the government said received inside information from Smith.

He, too, was charged in the criminal suit.

Glauberman's attorney, Martin Perschetz, said he had no comment on behalf of his client.

Without admitting or denying the allegations, Glauberman and Jeffer yesterday settled Securities and Exchange Commission insider trading charges.

As part of that settlement, Glauberman agreed to pay $221,000 in alleged illegal profits, and Jeffer and a company he partly owned, Jeffer Management Corp., agreed to pay $1.7 million.

The SEC said Jeffer's penalty was waived because neither he nor his company can afford to pay.

In addition, the SEC accused Glauberman's sister Lori, an associate director in the preferred stock department of Bear Stearns & Co., of insider trading in at least 11 securities. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, Lori Glauberman agreed to repay $19,135.

Smith, whom the government alleges earned $1.1 million in illegal profits, refused to settle, SEC lawyers said. His case is expected to go to trial.