ATLANTA -- The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday absolved Fleet Financial Group of charges that is consumer finance subsidiary violated state usury laws.

But Fleet's Atlanta-based finance company -- Fleet Finance -- still faces three class-action suits in Georgia and an investigation by the state's attorney general over its high-interest loans.

TV Allegations

The controversy stems from Fleet's purchase of several small consumer finance companies in the late 1980s. Consumer activists said that the companies' high-rate loans were usurious.

CBS' "60 Minutes" last fall repeated the allegations, suggesting that Fleet worked with home repair firms that coerced low-income customers to borrow to make unnecessary repairs.

A |Step Forward'

Georgia's highest court on Monday turned down the most sweeping of the class-action suits, saying Fleet Finance did not violate the state usury statute. The court did say, however, that it did not condone Fleet's interest-charging practices.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment.

A Fleet Financial spokesman hailed the ruling as "a significant step forward for us. He said that the pending litigation against Fleet and Fleet Finance is "immaterial."

Bruce Marks, the consumer activist who spearheaded the media and legal campaign against Rhode Island-based Fleet, said he will continue to organize "direct action" against the bank company.

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