Now community groups are piling on Citigroup Inc. for its planned $1.9 billion acquisition of European American Bank.

Inner City Press/Community on the Move, a community advocacy group based in the Bronx that has been among the most vocal opponents of recent megamergers, is trying to block Citi from acquiring European American, of Uniondale, N.Y., from the Dutch ABN Amro Holdings NV.

The group cites Citigroup’s record of lending in lower-income communities and the Federal Trade Commission’s predatory-lending lawsuit against Citigroup and its newly acquired consumer finance unit, Associates.

Inner City Press sent 40-page challenges to the European American acquisition to the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the New York State Banking Department. The agencies are accepting comments until April 2.

A spokeswoman for Citi did not have an immediate comment.

Consumer groups have complained that Associates targets minorities with high-interest-rate credit products. Citi’s acquisition of Irving, Tex.-based Associates First Capital Corp. in November sparked fierce opposition by consumer advocates, many of whom were frustrated that the deal went through without being scrutinized for its effect on lending under the Community Reinvestment Act.

These same groups are apparently using Citi’s plan to acquire European American — a commercial bank — to tackle that issue now.

“The regulators allowed Citigroup to buy The Associates saying that the Community Reinvestment Act didn’t apply to those applications,” said Matthew Lee, executive director of Inner City Press. “Now the Federal Trade Commission has sued Associates and Citigroup for predatory lending, and Citigroup’s applications to acquire EAB are subject to community lending review.”

Mr. Lee is demanding public hearings on the issue and plans to circulate his challenges to other community activist groups to drum up support.

“The Federal Reserve, in particular, did nothing when Citigroup acquired The Associates, and the Fed has never examined CitiFinancial,” Mr. Lee said, referring to Citi’s consumer lending arm. “That must now be done, and the FTC case must be resolved, before the Fed should even consider Citigroup’s applications to acquire EAB.”


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