LAST MAY, months before he was led off to the pokey, Charles Keating was on the attack. Standing tall before a crowd at the National Press Club, Keating ranted and raved at the "obscene" government bureaucrats he blamed for the $2.5-billion failure of his Lincoln Savings and Loan as well as for the $500 billion expected to go down the drain before the entire S&L mess is cleaned up.

"What kind of money is that?" intoned Keating. "On a beautiful night . . . I came into Washington . . . They were feeding a really delicious chicken and ham dinner to the poor people down there . . . . You know how much $500 billion is in terms of $5 meals? That's 100 billion meals. You could feed every man, woman and child in America every night of the week for 13 straight months. Think of what that kind of money spent properly would do for the poor of the world."

What Keating did not share with his audience that afternoon is how many of those $5 meals he could have financed with the proceeds from his soirees at Gavroche in London, Lion d'Or in Washington or his favorite, Le Cirque in Manhattan. One American Express chit speaks volumes on this. The bill is just one item in the mountains of documents that have surfaced in the course of numerous legal proceedings against Keating and his collapsed financial empire:

"Le Cirque: 2/18/87. Dinner for five: $2,495.00."

Actually dinner came to $1,912.25. Tax added $157.75 and the tip was a big one: $425. Enjoying the largesse of the federally insured Lincoln that evening were Charles Keating; Carol Kassick, his personal secretary; Jim Grogan, a company attorney and vice president (and former aide to Ohio Democratic Sen. John Glenn); former Securities and Exchange commissioner Barbara Thomas, one of Keating's well-paid business associates; and Brad Boland, a Keating son-in-law, sometime-public relations spokesman (and former aide to Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain).

That American Express card was in the name of "Bradley J. Boland, Lincoln Savings & Ln." The hand-written business purpose of the dinner "meeting:" "Discussed Lincoln S&L issues and Japan-Hong Kong trip." The $2,500 dinner could have bought 500 $5 dinners for the "poor of the world" to whom Keating paid homage at the press club. "There's a guy up in New York named Brother Brian," Keating declared in the same press club performance, "who decided he could pick out gifted children from the slums and the crime-ridden areas in New York City . . . . {If} you spent $20,000 a year on that type of kid . . . $20,000 a year for four years, each you could educate 6,250,000 people on $500 billion."

In lieu of a shopping spree at celebrity haberdasher Giorgio's on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Keating himself could have put one of those poor children through a year of college. Giorgio's was famed for special features meant to make the purchase of a $1,000 suit go down more easily -- white wine and espresso from a mahogany bar, a billiard table for the man- or lady-in-waiting.

According to Giorgio bills among the documents that have come to light in those various law suits, Charles Keating Jr. bought more than $19,000 worth of clothing there in June and July of 1984. On June 30, Keating purchased eight suits that cost a total of $7,694.63; five sport jackets were $3,487.88; six pair of slacks, $1,693.35; shirts, ties and belts, $1,874.41. A Lincoln Savings check in the amount of $19,023.35, dated Oct. 24, 1984 was made out and sent to Giorgio. The check was signed by Lincoln S&L President Judy Wischer.

Charles Keating was unavailable for comment on this article. His attorney, Stephen Neal, declined to respond to specifics of the article. However, Neal said, "The business affairs of both Lincoln and its parent were conducted properly, in accordance with the law, and the distinction between personal and business matters was carefully and properly accounted for."

So much time and newsprint have been devoted to Keating's legendary political clout and his sale of junk bonds to unsuspecting investors that little has been reported of the times when Keating's American Continental Co. (ACC), Lincoln Savings and their subsidiaries paid for travel, clothing and entertainment for Keating and his family. It is not known whether Keating reimbursed any of the companies for any of the expenses listed in this article.

Take the Monte Carlo apartment. In addition to three estates in Arizona, the Bahamas and Island Creek, Fla., the Keatings used an apartment on Avenue Princesse Grace in Monaco. Rent for the months of January through April 1989 came to 18,748 French francs, or approximately $3,000. A handwritten note on the invoice directs "Carol" {Kassick} to "wire payment from ACC". That's 600 more $5 meals that could have gone to the hungry.

Keating's largesse extended well beyond his own healthy appetites to those of his large family.

Son-in-law Gary Hall, an ophthalmologist, worked part-time for a Phoenix firm called The Eye Co., which for a time was another Keating company. On June 17, 1987, the Lincoln Financial Corp., LINFIN for short, a Lincoln S&L subsidiary, paid accountants Arthur Andersen $37,000 for an "Eye Co" audit. An accompanying disbursement memo from Lincoln says: "This is an old invoice settlement re 1985/1986 Eye Co. audit. I tried to negotiate it away, but no luck . . . . CK doesn't want to haggle . . . . Eye Co. is cash tight."

For the wedding of one of his daughters, Keating's American Continental paid the $56,820 bill. Individuals expenditures included "buffet and cake"; $18,962.80; florist: $11,538; Liquor Barn: $1,109.42. Keating also ferried his family around the country and the world in company-owned helicopters and jets. The itineraries, preserved in meticulously-kept Keating agendas that are also part of the voluminous documents, read like a Keating Baedeker:

The summer of 1984 found the Keatings on an extended holiday in Africa complete with safari at the Samburu game reserve and the Mt. Kenya Safari Club.

Early in 1985, some family members traveled to Mexico, according to an ACC business purpose voucher, "to view architecture, design, style and operations of various hotels in relation to upcoming involvement in destination resort hotel business."

Another business trip: to Madrid, Spain, on July 30, 1986, according to the Keating Activity Agenda, to "review drawings . . . of potential office furniture designs for redecorating the ACC corporate offices in Phoenix. Purchased tapestries for placement in the ACC offices/Lincoln branches."

The Keating cadre made repeated trips to Europe: the Ritz in Barcelona and Lisbon and the Dorchester in London. According to an official company agenda dated Oct. 29, 1986, there was a stay on May 31 that year at the most expensive hotel in the world, the Hotel Du Cap in Antibes, France. At a stop at a castle in Salzburg, Austria, one Keating company itinerary called for "1 suite, 4 dbls, 2 dbls in guest lodge."

Southern France was a favorite stomping ground. And why not? It is home to some of the most luxurious pleasure palaces on earth, only a chopper ride to the French ski resort of Isola where the Keatings spent four days in December 1986 before returning to Nice to welcome in the New Year of 1987.

The Keating staff even looked for ways to turn Keating's lavish birthday in 1986 into a business occasion.

"I am in the process of documenting Mr. Keating's birthday party for our travel and entertainment records," wrote one accountant, who then went on to say he'd been advised that "various business transactions occurred during that time involving some of the party attendees." Keating is a passionate opponent of abortion. So passionate, according to Patricia Johnson, his former public-relations director, that he had ACC pay for a full-page newspaper ad opposing abortion. She recalls that Keating once told a Phoenix radio audience that in trying to save the lives of the unborn, he was insuring another generation of customers for Lincoln Savings & Loan and ACC.

Keating was an NCAA champion swimmer and, according to former employees, wanted Olympic swimmers among his kin. Using $3 million in corporate funds, he built an Olympic-size, state-of-the-art swim facility in the Phoenix desert, listing it as an employees' health club for building permit and expense purposes. He called it the Phoenician Swim Club, put an Olympic-like torch on its emblem and hired five former Olympic swimmers as coaches. But the facility never operated as an employees' club. Instead, it became a community swim club and among its members were a gaggle of Keating grandchildren, according to club coach and lifeguard Pierre LaFontaine.

Finally, if you weren't lucky enough to have Charlie Keating for a grandfather, you might have wanted him for a boss. Especially if you'd ruined a pair of $29.99 shoes on the job. That's what happened to Patricia Johnson. She says that to her shock and amazement, Keating volunteered to reimburse her and asked if $5,000 would be enough. She accepted the offer.

More meals for the hungry, lost in the quicksand of Charles Keating's Arizona desert.

Marion Goldin, senior producer of NBC News Expose, produced and reported the 'Frontline' documentary on Charles Keating and Lincoln Savings and Loan entitled "Other People's Money."