A New York advocacy group asked the Federal Reserve to bar Fulton Financial Corp. from taking over Howard County's Columbia Bancorp, alleging Fulton discriminates against minority borrowers.

Based on its analysis of home loan data released by Lancaster, Pa.-based Fulton, Inner City Press/Fair Finance Watch said Fulton's subsidiaries in the Washington; Richmond; Elkton, Md.; and Virginia Beach regions show a pattern of denying home loans to minorities and charging higher rates to those who do get loans.

ICP said that black borrowers in Virginia Beach were denied home purchase loans 12.3 times more frequently than white borrowers and that in Richmond, black borrowers were rejected four times more often than whites. In the Washington area, Fulton's Resource Bank in 2004 made higher-cost home mortgages to blacks 3.9 times more frequently than whites, ICP said.

"We take allegations of this type very seriously," said Laura J. Wakeley, a Fulton spokeswoman. "But we also feel that there are two sides to every story, and we'll be sharing our response with the proper federal banking authorities. Fulton does not discriminate in any way in any of our lending practices."

ICP, which advocates for more and cheaper access to financial services for poor and minority consumers, is one of several such groups using newly disclosed home mortgage data to argue that banks and thrifts are systematically discriminating against minorities. Bankers say the new home mortgage data, however, does not include other factors, such as past payment history, that could explain mortgage-lending patterns to minorities.

Fulton is seeking to acquire Columbia, which has the dominant market share in wealthy Howard County, as well as several branches in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, for about $313 million. ICP's letter asking the Federal Reserve to reject the takeover was reported in Tuesday's Baltimore Sun.

Fulton, which has more than $12 billion of assets, has amassed 223 branches in recent years through series of small mergers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia.

"Fulton Financial has been expanding by purchases of relatively small banks with, ICP contends, insufficient scrutiny by the Federal Reserve Board," ICP said.