Bids are due in mid-January for Washington, D.C..-based First American Bankshares Inc., the $4.9 billion-asset company that was controlled by the infamous Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

The leading contenders for the bank, which has units left in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., are First Union Corp', Crestar Financial Corp., and Signet Banking Corp., according to sources.

Conventional wisdom suggests First Union as the likely winner, due to its superior capital and financial resources. But Crestar's aggressive winning bid last week for Continental Federal Savings Bank of Fairfax, Va., may prompt some rethinking.

Virginia-based Crestar offered $21.50 a share, or $66 million, for the $962 million-asset thrift. First Union dropped out of the bidding process when it

decided it couldn't go higher than $14, according to a source close to First Union.

The source added that the North Carolina company is trying to figure out what that deal portends for the First American auction: Will Crestar be equally aggressive, or is it tapped out after buying Continental?

"We're assuming they don't want us to have First American," the First Union source said.

A Crestar spokesman declined to comment on specific acquisition rumors.

First American is also selling a special assets portfolio consisting of bad loans from its Washington-area banks and its recently sold New York and Georgia banks. First Union plans to bid on that portfolio, the source said.

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