WASHINGTON - A U.S. lawmaker has stepped into the internal feud raging at Patelco Credit Union.

Rep. Bill Baker, R-Calif., has urged the National Credit Union Administration to press the Justice Department to investigate evidence that insiders at San Francisco's largest credit union defrauded the regulator.

Patelco's directors suspect insiders who opposed the credit union's aborted merger with First Technology forged a letter from Patelco's former chairman to the NCUA. The letter urged NCUA to reject the merger, which would have been the largest combination in credit union history.

Patelco directors have already asked Justice to probe the incident, but they feel the NCUA's support would give their request more clout.

"The board members who have contacted me maintain that the FBI and the Department of Justice will be more likely to investigate the alleged forgery if it is referred by NCUA than by private citizens," Rep. Baker said in his May 12 letter.

NCUA general counsel Robert M. Fenner would not comment on whether the agency asked Justice to conduct a full-blown investigation.

Sources close to the situation said an agency endorsement is doubtful. The letter didn't affect the NCUA's consideration of the merger, so it doesn't consider it worth investigating, sources said.

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