To make their case, they gathered the most intimate details about their customers' financial lives.
The mortgages they peddled -- including many that required no money down and minuscule payments for the first few years -- lured previously unqualified buyers into the market and sent home prices to all-time highs.
Through it all, state regulators were the only line of defense, empowered to keep criminals out of the mortgage industry and revoke licenses to protect consumers from fraud.
But the OFR almost never rejected applicants based on their criminal records. The Miami Herald analyzed the same criminal database that the OFR uses and discovered 4,065 new applicants between 2000 and 2007 who had been found guilty of crimes that the law specifically requires regulators to screen.
Those include crimes involving fraud, dishonest dealing and ''moral turpitude''. Any conviction counts, as does any case where the applicant pleaded no contest, or where the court withheld adjudication.
As a group, they were guilty of 2,821 financial crimes, including 922 larcenies, 752 frauds, 327 burglaries, 161 forgeries and 67 robberies.
There were at least 1,588 crimes that the law describes as ''moral turpitude,'' including 835 assaults and batteries, 253 illegal drug sales, 84 sex crimes and 15 homicides.
During the same period, regulators rejected only 29 applicants based on their criminal record.
The OFR's mission statement declares that it is dedicated to safeguarding the public from fraud.
State lawyer William Gene Cole described that responsibility in a 1999 order refusing to license a Miami man guilty of grand theft because it would ''place him in a position of trust over other people's money, in a transaction that is often the most important investment a person will ever make -- buying a house.''
But as the industry boomed, and new applications piled up on regulators over the last eight years, they veered away from applying that standard, licensing 186 people guilty of the same theft statute, The Miami Herald found.
Among them: Anthony Hollis of Orlando, who got a license to own a mortgage brokerage in 2003, despite convictions for car theft and passing bad checks.
He didn't even make it through the 24-hour mortgage-broker training class without breaking the law, court records show. He persuaded a classmate who worked for Sprint PCS to sell him cellphone customers' Social Security numbers.
Hollis used his training to pull his victims' credit histories without their knowledge, court records show. He opened credit-card accounts in their names and stole more than $200,000 -- much of that blown in Las Vegas -- before his conviction for racketeering in 2004.
The Miami Herald reviewed the complete application files for 100 mortgage professionals -- violent offenders and those with the most serious financial crimes, like bank robbery and racketeering -- to see how the OFR handled high-priority cases.
The list includes brokers arrested and convicted in Florida, those who had been imprisoned in other states, and those convicted in federal courts.
Most had been found guilty before they applied for their license. The rest were found guilty after getting into the industry.
Of 64 with criminal histories when they applied, 36 disclosed their records. In those cases, regulators started the vetting process by demanding character references.
They accepted one from an Almeida business associate, Joel K. Hill, who has since been arrested, and acquitted, on charges of grand theft and exploiting the elderly. They accepted another from Almeida's mother, who noted that her son struggled with the exam after his training course: ''It took Scott three times but he passed and he didn't give up,'' she wrote.