The former lobbyist for savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr. yesterday contradicted the sworn testimony of Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.), telling the Senate ethics committee that Riegle arranged a 1987 meeting between senators and regulators on Keating's regulatory problems.

The testimony by James J. Grogan, who was corporate counsel for Keating's parent company and the principal link between Keating and his friends on Capitol Hill, focused attention on Riegle for the first time in a month of public hearings into the propriety of his and four other senators' links to Keating.

It was also the first time the committee has heard from a key figure in Keating's now-collapsed enterprise, although Grogan said relations between him and his former boss became "rather strained" during the company's bankruptcy proceedings last year.

Riegle's office later issued a statement saying some of Grogan's recollections were "incorrect" and that his testimony "shows no improper activity or ethical violation" by the senator. Riegle's attorney, Thomas C. Green, indicated he will attempt to show in cross-examination of Grogan today that it was Grogan rather than Riegle who "cross-leveraged" the meetings.

Riegle and the other senators -- Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- are being investigated for their intervention on behalf of Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan Association during a period when Keating was raising more than $1.3 million for their campaigns and causes.

In a deposition he gave to the committee last March, Riegle denied arranging an April 2, 1987, meeting between the other four senators and former chief regulator Edwin J. Gray, who testified earlier that the senators tried improperly to pressure him to go easy on Lincoln.

Grogan, testifying under a limited grant of immunity from being prosecuted for what he told the committee, said Riegle suggested the meeting when he visited the headquarters of Keating's American Continental Corp. in Phoenix in early March 1987.

While Keating and Riegle were meeting privately on Lincoln's problems, Grogan said he and Kevin Gottlieb, who was Riegle's executive assistant, discussed a fund-raiser that Keating was planning to hold later in the month for Riegle at a Detroit hotel that he owned. The event raised nearly $80,000 for Riegle's 1988 reelection campaign, although Riegle subsequently returned the money after publicity about the event.

After Riegle and Keating came out of their private meeting, Grogan reported, Riegle said he thought it would be "productive" to get DeConcini and McCain to meet with Gray and indicated he planned to talk to Gray about it. "It was {Riegle's} idea to have these meetings," Grogan said.

"Is there any doubt in your mind Sen. Riegle agreed to arrange the meeting for the senators?" Grogan was asked by Robert S. Bennett, special counsel to the committee. "No, sir," replied Grogan.

Riegle wanted to be invited to the meeting by the two Arizona senators because "he knew as a politician that this was a potentially politically explosive situation because there was tremendous media at the time about Mr. Keating and Mr. Gray and the regulators and all the fighting" among them over Lincoln, Grogan said.

Riegle did not attend the April 2 meeting, which surprised Grogan, he said, and "miffed" the other senators.

But Riegle joined the other four at the April 9 meeting with San Francisco-based regulators after receiving a written invitation from DeConcini to appear in his capacity as a member of the Senate Banking Committee. Riegle is now chairman of the banking panel.

In the week between the two meetings, Grogan said Keating dispatched him to Washington to give the senators more information on Lincoln's problems and "keep the team together," meaning the senators. The second meeting resulted in a warning from the regulators that they were recommending a criminal investigation of Lincoln, which had the effect of halting intervention efforts by all of the senators except Cranston and, later, DeConcini.

But Grogan, who said the senators did not tell him about the criminal referral, suggested another reason for suspension of senatorial pressure. While Keating had hoped to use the meetings to "seize the moment and get a catalyst going to settle the dispute," he came to view the April meetings as a "terrible mistake" that only angered the regulators even more, he said. As a result, Keating decided to pursue his fight against the regulators in court rather than Congress, Grogan said.

Responding to questions about Cranston, Grogan recalled his first encounter with the California senator at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Cranston told him he'd been "very good" to California thrifts, asked for his support and whipped out a 3-by-5 index card to take down his name and phone number, Grogan said.

Within a few days, he added, he was called by Joy Jacobson, Cranston's fund-raiser, who asked for his help in paying off Cranston's 1984 presidential campaign debt.

Grogan also said that after delivering $250,000 in checks to Cranston in his Capitol Hill office in November 1987, the two called Keating on a speaker telephone. Keating asked that Cranston call M. Danny Wall, Gray's successor as head of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, to arrange a meeting between himself and Keating. Cranston then called Wall, he said.

Grogan was asked about a statement he made in closed sessions with the committee Wednesday and Thursday, in which he tried to draw a distinction between "buying access and the ability to make your pitch" to lawmakers and "buying influence and the ability to actually have someone do something."

As an example, he noted that although Cranston received more money than anyone else from Keating (nearly $1 million), "several times" Cranston rebuffed Grogan's requests for some action on behalf of Keating.

A transcript of the proceedings released yesterday shows committee member Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) observing, "Well, you're going to have a hard time selling that."

Staff writer John E. Yang contributed to this report.