ATLANTA -- The Florida attorney general's office said Tuesday that it was investigating the planned merger of Barnett Banks Inc. and First Florida Banks Inc. to ensure that unfair competition would not result. Jerome Hoffman, chief of the attorney general's antitrust section, said his office was concerned about antitrust implications of the deal, which was approved by the Federal Reserve Board and the Justice Department on Oct. 28.
The Fed and the Justice Department ruled that Jacksonville-based Barnett, the state's largest bank, with $32.6 billion in assets, had to divest itself of only four branches, involving a scant $100 million in deposits, even though the merger would leave it with one-third of the deposits in the Tampa Bay area.
Reviewing the Review
"We were very surprised at the outcome of their review," Mr. Hoffman said. "We're not saying they were absolutely wrong, we were just surprised by it and want to conduct our own investigation to make sure everything is looked at thoroughly."
If the Florida attorney general determines that the Fed's approval was unwarranted, it can file suit against the merger under the federal antitrust act, Mr. Hoffman said. A decision will probably be reached before Nov. 27, when a Fed-mandated "cooling off" period expires.
The Florida attorney general's concerns were first reported over the weekend by the St. Petersburg Times.
A spokesman for Barnett said the company has supplied Florida's attorney general's office with documents it requested.
"I don't think we're so much worried whether this merger is going to have a big impact on large commercial loans. It's basically small-business and consumer loans we're more worried about," Mr. Hoffman said.