WASHINGTON - The Fed last week rejected a community group's protest and gave Boatmen's Bancshares of St. Louis permission to acquire the Worthen Banking Co. of Little Rock.

The Fed, acting at a closed meeting on Jan. 18, said it approved the application because Boatmen's various banks have expanded their lending to minorities, operate numerous community outreach programs, and repeatedly score either "outstanding" or "satisfactory" on Community Reinvestment Act exams.

The governors, in dismissing a complaint by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn, said neither the Fed nor the Comptroller's office found any evidence of lending discrimination.

Boatmen's, with $28.6 billion of assets, controls 45 depository institutions in eight states. After the merger, the bank will pick up $3.5 billion in assets and 11 branches.

As part of the deal, Boatmen's agreed to divest itself of a branch in Forth Smith, Ark., with at least $17 million of deposits and a branch in Faulkner, Ark., with at least $7 million of deposits. If the bank cannot sell the branches within 180 days, it will transfer them to an independent trustee until it finds a buyer.

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