Charter One Denies Discrimination Claim

CLEVELAND (AP) - A Charter One Bank vice president said Tuesday the company has never been offered any data to support an allegation that it discriminates against black borrowers.

In a joint news release Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network and the National Association of Black Organizations said former Charter One loan officers told the groups blacks were given higher interest rates and more scrutiny than white applicants applying for loans.

But Charter One executive vice president John D. Koch said the groups have never identified the former loan officers, and have never provided any evidence of discrimination by the bank or its subsidiary, First Federal of Michigan.

"We are very disappointed that these groups would use tactics like this to gain media attention before any specifics or substance regarding their allegations have been produced," Koch said. "There has been no specific claim whatsoever."

The allegations of bias are "totally unfounded," he said.

Koch said it is possible the allegations are coming from disgruntled former employees, but he does not know who they might be.

The ministers requested a meeting with the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to ask for an investigation into the allegations. The comptroller charters, regulates and supervises national banks.

A woman answering the telephone at the National Action Network's offices in New York said the group was hosting an event Tuesday and no one would be available to comment on the Charter One issue.

Charter One Financial Inc., the holding company of Charter One Bank, has more than 420 branches in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Vermont.

The groups said they will hold a series of demonstrations at Charter One's headquarters in an attempt to "eliminate their corporate culture of bias." The first demonstration is scheduled for July 17.

The ministers also said they will encourage their church members to close First Federal and Charter One bank accounts and to sell Charter One stock.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)