Attorney General Janet Reno addressed the reporters Dec. 13 when Shawmut National Corp. got the Justice Department's $960,000 lending bias bill. But while Reno garnered the spotlight, lenders interested in knowing in whose hands their fate lies should look beyond her.

Before it ever reaches Reno, lending discrimination cases pass through Paul Hancock and Justice Department's civil rights division.

Hancock, Justice's chief of the housing and civil enforcements section, civil rights division, has handled the investigations for the two most recent lending bias cases the department has ruled on - Shawmut and Decauter Savings and Loan in February, which doled out a cool $1 million in settlements.

With a staff of 60 - up from last year's 42 - Hancock's team is expected to pursue even more investigations. He said the state's attorney generals will be taking up some of the slack, but the brunt of the sleuth work will be done by Hancock's team, including several cases that are in the hopper now, like Blackpipe State Bank in Martin, S.D., which is in hot water for alleged lending discrimination against native Americans.

The Justice Department will work cooperatively with the banking industry, but Hancock warns that banks that don't implement fairer practices will be at risk and the department wouldn't "rule out any remedies" in getting them to level the playing field.

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