They made strange bedfellows.

A devout Roman Catholic and former altar boy, Jim McGreevey (search) is a married father of two and an ambitious politician who became governor of New Jersey.

Golan Cipel (search), 12 years McGreevey's junior, is a dapper-dressed, smooth-talking, poetry-writing, Israeli national and ex-sailor.

The two began a sexual relationship — one that ended badly.

Sources say Cipel, 35, is poised to file a sex-discrimination lawsuit against McGreevey — and the governor's political career is finished after he admitted being gay and cheating on his wife with a man he put on the state's pay roll.

McGreevey, 47, first met Cipel in 1999 when the then-Woodbridge mayor toured the Israeli city of Ris hon Letzion.

McGreevey had been participating with the United Jewish Federation of Metro West in the New Jersey Mega Mission to Israel, and Cipel was a spokesman for the Israeli city.

A political junkie who lived in New York during much of the 1990s before return ing to his native land, Cipel had watched McGreevey's meteoric political rise from little-known suburban mayor to New Jersey Democratic party star.

McGreevey narrowly lost to incumbent Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997, but four years later routed Republican Bret Schundler to capture the Statehouse.

Cipel has said McGreevey was impressed by his political knowledge, telling an Israeli paper in 2001 that McGreevey "liked the way I thought."

In 2000, during a return trip to Israel, McGreevey decided to bring Golan back to the United States.

Charles Kushner (search) — a top McGreevey campaign contributor now accused of hiring a prostitute to blackmail a key witness in a federal fraud case — signed the papers Cipel needed to work in the United States, and gave him a $30,000-a-year marketing job, at the request of McGreevey.

Cipel — who graduated from New York Institute of Technology in 1998 with a degree in communications arts — became the director of Jewish outreach and an informal security adviser for McGreevey's successful 2001 gubernatorial campaign.

In the months leading up to the election, the Democratic state committee paid Cipel nearly $2,100 plus expenses every two weeks for his work on the campaign.

After the election, Cipel hailed McGreevey as "the mensch [Yiddish for an upstanding human being] of all seasons."

He said "the fact that Jews voted for [McGreevey] in such large numbers shows they feel he is close to the Jewish community and shares its values."

McGreevey's troubles began shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks when he tapped Golan, who once worked as a television news reporter, as the state's homeland security chief at a salary of $110,000.

It was the fifth-highest salary on his staff.

Cipel was named to the newly created post without any background check or official announcement — and almost immediately after the appointment, rumors began swirling about the nature of his relationship with McGreevey.

Cipel, who served in the Israeli Navy, had little security and counterterrorism experience — and law enforcement officials, Republicans and state newspapers slammed the posting.

In fact, Cipel, who was in the country on a work visa, had been denied federal security clearance because he was not a U.S. citizen.

But McGreevey defended the hiring, saying Cipel's duties included "working on policy matters, intellectual property and federal and state regulatory policy."

He also issued a biography that detailed Cipel's alleged extensive military background — and hailed Cipel for making "significant contributions to state security."

Cipel's military career included a five-year stint with a Navy patrol boat unit in the Israel Defense Force and 10 years in the reserves at the Homeland Command, where he reached the rank of lieutenant.

But five of his reserve years were spent in the United States, attending college and working at the Israeli consulate.

McGreevey's administration refused to give a formal job description or allow Cipel to talk to the media.

Cipel's military training was responsible for "preventing terrorist attacks [in Israel]," according to the bio.

It also hailed his tenure at the Israeli consulate in New York, saying he "oversaw terrorist-related matters" and was "responsible for portfolios on terrorism."

But in truth, Cipel's duties at the consulate — he worked there from 1995 to 1999 — had nothing to do with terrorism issues, according to published reports.

Collett Avital, who headed the consulate while Cipel worked there, said that Cipel "was not involved in anything related to terrorism," but worked as its top public information officer.

Amid the swirling controversy and lingering questions, Cipel abruptly quit as terror advisor in March 2002, his resignation grudgingly accepted by McGreevey.

But instead of booting his "very good friend" from state government, McGreevey assigned him to a job as a special "policy counselor" to the governor.

He had no specified duties but kept his $110,000 salary and second-floor Statehouse office.

That August, with the controversy still dogging him, Cipel left his state government position just nine days after a scathing Gannett New Jersey investigation revealed that "McGreevey relied on exaggerated anti-terrorism credentials to justify" the hiring.

"I have received offers from private companies, which I have decided to pursue. I thank the governor and the opportunity to work for New Jersey," Cipel said in a statement Aug. 14, 2002.

McGreevey blamed the exaggerations about Cipel on the poorly worded biography.

"Clearly there exists an ambiguity," McGreevey told Gannett New Jersey, talking about a sentence in the bio hailing Cipel's credentials as "extraordinary."

"The statement ought to have been written cleaner, simpler and more direct."

But McGreevey said Cipel had never claimed that his military training was extraordinary.

"Nonetheless, it is an experience most Americans do not have today," McGreevey said.

Facing a return to Israel unless he got a work visa for a position he was uniquely qualified to fill, Cipel then landed a job at MWW Group, a public-relations powerhouse based in East Rutherford, N.J., of which real estate mogul Kushner was a major client.

McGreevey, who has close ties to the firm, had recommended Cipel for the job.

As a vice president, Cipel's accounts included the Israeli consulate in New York as well as the Israel Tourism Ministry.

But he left the job after only a month. The p.r. giant was reportedly none too thrilled with his work ethic.

Soon after, Cipel, with another recommendation from McGreevey, took a job with State Street Partners, a Trenton lobbying firm.

The company was founded by Republicans Rocco Iossa and Gov. Whitman's former chief of staff, Michael Torpey. McGreevey's best friend, Rahway Mayor James Kennedy, is a partner at the firm.

But Cipel didn't last long there either. Just months after he was hired, Cipel was fired for failing to show up for work often enough.

Meanwhile, McGreevey had said that he still sought Cipel's advice and had him continue to do outreach for him in the Jewish community.

Most recently, Cipel reportedly worked in the Trenton offices of Zeiger Enterprises, a toy and appliance manufacturer.

McGreevey has said he played no role in getting Cipel that job.

Cipel's former colleagues in Israel have described him as smooth-talking and bright, but not the hardest of workers — and anything but an expert in security and terrorism.

Cipel was a "nice guy, not a hard-working guy, but he knows how to schmooze and government relations," Israeli parliament member Rafi Elul told Gannett New Jersey.

Before attending college, Cipel worked as an aide for several parliament members.

Rhonda Barad of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where Cipel worked as an intern, said he was "very outgoing, extremely intelligent and astute."

"He is a perfectionist in his work."

Cipel, who drives a Mercedes SUV, has homes in both New York City and New Jersey.

He could not be reached for comment yesterday.