''Back then, it was such a feeding frenzy,'' said David Velazquez, 37, a former loan originator in Broward who served time in prison for drug trafficking. 'People were saying, `We need loan originators. We'll train you.' It was so busy. They were pulling in anyone they could.''
In all, more than 5,300 people with criminal histories rushed into Florida's mortgage industry as loan originators since 2000. Even for people who had five or more convictions, there were no impediments to getting in.
According to state Department of Corrections data and county court records:
Brian Lendin served six prison terms totaling a dozen years between 1983 and 2000 for crimes including grand theft, manslaughter and aggravated battery.
Rosendo Perez was convicted of mortgage fraud, grand theft and forgery between 1990 and 2000.
Ronald D. Collins was convicted 37 times between 1983 and 2000 on charges including grand theft, forgery and writing worthless checks.
The Miami Herald also found 31 instances of people with stripped or denied mortgage-broker licenses who managed to get work as loan originators. Others were turned down over incomplete applications.
Florida denied Antonio Ramos a broker's license in 2004 after he failed to submit his arrest record and other documents on his prior crimes. On his state application, he admitted a grand-theft conviction, explaining he was young at the time: ''Please accept me, because I am honest and want to be a success in the future.''
Ramos became a loan originator.
Over the next three years, prosecutors say, he and several co-conspirators embarked on a massive fraud spree targeting luxury homes in Broward County. They inflated home values in Southwest Ranches and used straw buyers to rip off lenders for $8.3 million.
Ramos is serving 60 days of home detention and four years of probation.
The Miami Herald also found that 22 brokers stripped of their state licenses returned as loan originators. Among them: four charged with felonies while working as mortgage brokers, two who dipped into their clients' accounts, and three who were charging excessive fees.
Chris Francis said he knew that he had to become a loan originator to get into the business in 2002. The reason: He had spent nearly a year in federal prison for a $4 million mortgage fraud in Maryland.
''I did my homework, and this was my way in,'' said Francis, who works for a lender in Lee County. He's now in charge of compliance for his firm. ''Who better than me to make sure everything is done right?'' he said.