A California community bank has agreed to pay $425,000 to settle charges made by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that the bank's lending practices were discriminatory.

In the settlement, officials at First Central Bank, Cerritos, did not admit or deny that they violated either the Fair Housing or the Equal Credit Opportunity acts.

But the Comptroller's Office said Thursday that "during a 1997 fair- lending examination of First Central, OCC examiners discovered the bank, which is Asian-owned, may have discriminated against non-Asian applicants for mortgage loans."

The OCC identified 28 suspicious loan files, involving 40 applicants.

According to the settlement, the $105 million-asset bank will pay a $25,000 penalty to the OCC and $10,000 to each applicant.

The settlement is significant because it is the first involving allegations that members of a minority group were given preferential treatment over others, according to an OCC spokeswoman.

"Lending discrimination is against the law in any form," the spokeswoman said.

Hans Chan, president and chief executive officer of First Central, declined to comment on the settlement.

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