WASHINGTON -- A group of African-American bankers won the bidding for six suburban Maryland branches owned by the Resolution Trust Corp. last week, a significant victory for minority bankers in competition for what's left of the S&L cleanup.

Officials for First InnerCity Holdings Inc. of Stamford, Conn., said last week that it had used recently modified minority preference rules in RTC bidding procedures to edge out larger, nonminority bidders for the Washington-area franchise. They did not disclose the price.

"We want to close as soon as possible," said B. Ahmed Jelani, a principal of First InnerCity. "The sooner the better for us. We want to start serving those depositors that have been patient enough to stay with the institution."

The RTC had no comment, saying that any deal to sell John Hanson Savings Bank's nine branches and resolve the institution isn't final yet. An agency spokesman did say that John Hanson, with $151 million in deposits, was designated for the minority preference program because more than half of its branches were in predominantly minority neighborhoods.

Minority Initiatives

Mr. Jelani said that First InnerCity hopes to take advantage of initiatives designed to help minorities buy failed branches in minority neighborhoods. The initiatives include interim capital assistance, rent-free use of branches, and an early shot at the thrift's performing assets.

The John Hanson sale was the focal point of a debate between Congressional blacks and the RTC over the intent of a series of laws designed to help minorities buy S&L branches and, hopefully, increase the number and size of minority-controlled banks in the United States.

A fight was averted, however, when the RTC last week announced a new policy bolstering minorities in the bidding for branches and deposits in minority neighborhoods. It allows minority bidders to match the highest nonminority bid.

Consultant's Finding

RTC changed its policy after a consultant hired by the agency found the allowing minority bidders to match the highest nonminority bid would not jeopardize the RTC's legal obligation to get the highest recovery to the taxpayers.

"The consultant found tht not only would the new paolicy not cause us to lose money, but could even get more recoveries," said Felisa Neuringer, a spokeswoman with the RTC.

Before the change, minority bidders who lost were allowed to compete a second time with the top bidder. Whoever bid highr in the second round won the franchise. Most advocats of the minority initiative felt that larger, nonminority institutions would always be able to outbid minority competition.

The new policy allowed First InnerCity to win the franchise, Mr. Jelani said.

At least one other minority group had bid on John Hanson.

Mr. Jalani said the company has applied for a state bank charter in Maryland. Trevo Bell, a former Citibank lender, will become chief executive of First InnerCity Bank. Mr. Bell, Mr. Jelani, and a third principal of First InnerCity all are former Citibank lenders.

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