LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Charles Keating declared his innocence Monday before a preliminary hearing on charges the former chief of American Continental Corp. bilked investors out of more than $250 million.

''It's dangerous to be right when government is wrong,'' he told reporters outside the courtroom.

His lawyer, Stephen Neal, asked to explain the comment, said: ''Mr. Keating is innocent. He believes in his innocence. He's confident that when the evidence is developed he will be vindicated.''

Keating, 66, remained jailed Monday on $5 million bail after Superior Court Judge Lance Ito set a tentative trial date of Nov. 26.

Keating and three others are accused of defrauding investors with American Continental junk bonds sold through the now defunct Lincoln Savings and Loan.

Experts place the cost of bailing out the failed California S&L at about $2 billion, making it the most expensive bailout.

Keating, an Arizona developer, was chairman of Phoenix-based American Continental, which owned Lincoln.

Also in court Monday were Keating's co-defendants, all of whom are free on bail. They are Ray C. Fidel, 32, former Lincoln president; Robin S. Symes, 37, former Lincoln chief executive officer; and Judy Wischer, 42, former American Continental president.

Each of the four defendents is charged with 42 counts of fraud and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of six or more counts.

Neal said he was still pursuing a bail reduction for Keating in federal court after losing similar bids in state appeals courts.

The bespectacled Keating was permitted to change from his prison uniform into slacks and an open-collared beige shirt before entering the courtroom, where he listened to the proceedings with a slight smile.

Ito scheduled a motions hearing Oct. 26.

''I expect this will be a long and convoluted discovery proceeding,'' the judge said.