Salomon Smith Barney's

top health care investment banker, Benjamin Lorello, left the firm Monday for

Warburg Dillon Read

, taking with him banker William McGahan and health care analyst Geoffrey Harris.

Lorello is the second big name in health care banking to switch firms recently. Several weeks ago, Brian Brille, the head of health care banking at

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

(MWD)

, left to join

NationsBanc Montgomery Securities

, a unit of

BankAmerica

(BAC) - Get Report

. Despite a spike of merger announcements in last year's second quarter, the health care sector has been sickly for some time, with new IPOs, mergers and debt issuance falling off since late 1997, according to

Securities Data

.

Lorello's group was involved in a high-profile snafu last year. It worked on

McKesson's

proposed takeover of

HBO

. But the merger fell apart after Salomon Smith Barney accidentally leaked word of the deal before it was announced publicly. The deal later was revived without Salomon's involvement. (The combined company is called

McKesson HBOC

(MCK) - Get Report

.) The loss of the mandate reportedly cost Salomon a merger fee of about $50 million.

A spokeswoman for Salomon Smith Barney, a unit of

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

, confirmed Lorello's departure. "Salomon Smith Barney continues to be committed to the sector and to the franchise," the spokeswoman says.

Another person familiar with the situation says Warburg hired Lorello, McGahan and Harris. They are expected to fit into Warburg's existing health care group. A firm spokeswoman declined to comment. Lorello, McGahan and Harris couldn't be reached for comment.