WASHINGTON - A Chicago consumer advocacy group said Monday that it has found a federal partner for its battle to combat predatory lending.

National People's Action announced that a Federal Trade Commission representative has agreed to meet with the group regularly and listen to testimony from consumers who say they were predatory lenders' victims.

A group spokesman said Ronald Isaac in the FTC's consumer protection bureau promised the group at its annual conference in Arlington, Va., Monday that either he or a representative would try to attend seven public meetings across the country to solicit testimony and gather data.

The spokesman also said Mr. Isaac told them the FTC's regional representatives will try to attend the informal meetings, too, and report their findings back to the consumer group regularly. Mr. Isaac said he will try to attend the group's national conference again next year, the spokesman said.

An FTC spokesman confirmed the advocacy group's account.

To protest what they call an unfair two-tiered lending system, 500 members of National People's Action then went to the Washington office of Roger Levy, Citigroup Inc.'s senior vice president and director of government relations. Mr. Levy was not there Monday to listen to the group's claim that a Citigroup acquisition, Associates First Capital Corp., engaged in predatory lending. But Mr. Levy's assistant met with them and agreed to pass on their message to the Citi lobbyist, a spokesman for the group said.

Afterward, the group headed to Capitol Hill to push its agenda. Members who met with Senate staffers reiterated their call for regulators to toughen Community Reinvestment Act compliance standards.

When grading large banks for CRA compliance, the group wants regulators to score their performance in each market, instead of issuing one national grade. For example, if a bank operates in 10 different metropolitan areas, it should receive 10 separate grades, spokesman Jason Kiely said.

In addition, CRA compliance should be extended to all institutions that make loans, they said. Now only banks and thrifts that take deposits are scrutinized while loan-making arms, such as mortgage companies that take in no deposits, are not.

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