Under state law, regulators could have taken any number of actions, including launching their own investigation and asking for an emergency hearing.
A Miami-Dade circuit court judge eventually voided the deed transfer -- finding the notary and witnesses who signed it were not even present -- but no investigation has been conducted by the state.
Fletcher, who was found guilty in 2007 of grand theft in an unrelated case, still has his mortgage broker's license.
The growth of Lewis Spinner's Cash Out Mortgage -- which operated from a Miramar strip mall with hundreds of agents cold-calling customers -- paralleled the rise of the subprime-loan industry in South Florida.
State regulators got 14 formal complaints against Cash Out between late 2001 and January 2006.
After the seventh complaint, in 2003, they did a cursory examination of Spinner's books. What they found could have gotten him booted from the business.
He charged customers illegal fees, he failed to register his employees with the state and he didn't pass the proceeds from at least one mortgage on to his client.
Of the 615 loans written by Cash Out since 2000, the OFR examiner looked at 12. At least three had been charged illegal or excessive fees, totallying $8,488, reports show.
The OFR made Spinner promise to tell the clients they had been overcharged and offer them a refund.
The examination also found that Spinner failed to list nine of his employees on a mandatory quarterly report to state regulators. Six of them had serious criminal records, including felony theft, armed burglary and cocaine trafficking, The Herald found.
Spinner himself passed the background check and got his Florida license despite disclosing a conviction for possession of stolen property and a fine for filing a fraudulent appraisal.
ALLOWED TO WORK
Most importantly, the examination substantiated the issue raised in the complaint: Cash Out had accepted $120,000 from a bank on behalf of a borrower, but failed to turn the money over to the client. That, alone, is grounds for license revocation under state rules.
But regulators didn't remove Spinner from the business, they didn't even put him on probation. Instead, they fined him $1,500 and left him free to sell mortgages for 2½ more years, expanding his company into a national firm, scamming lenders and borrowers along the way.
Lawyers, clients and even one ex-employee filed subsequent complaints with the state against Cash Out, but the agency didn't take another look.
Those complaints arrived during a period when the agency was launching fewer examinations -- with new cases dropping by more than 50 percent from 2003 to 2007, the agency's quarterly reports show.
In 2003, Sylvester Julien decided to refinance his Winter Garden home. Cash Out provided a good-faith estimate for a 30-year, fixed mortgage at 7 percent interest. At closing, the loan turned out to carry nearly twice the rate with a hefty prepayment penalty.
"I sent a complaint to the regulators," Julien said. "They did nothing as far as I'm concerned."
Then there's former employee Andrea Orbe, who wrote to the OFR in 2005 that managers routinely "adjusted" borrower's pay stubs and W-2 forms to make them look richer and more credit-worthy.
Orbe described a case where her manager "miraculously" increased a home's value on the appraisal. "This is just one of a million times that this has been done," she warned the regulators.
Still, the state took no action.
Finally, a company insider alerted the FBI's economic-crime unit in Broward in 2006, prompting agents to raid the firm and cart away reams of files.
Months later, a federal grand jury in Miami indicted Spinner and his partner -- Howard Roy Kleinman -- in a sweeping fraud case that charged them with stealing $21 million from lenders and consumers over the course of four years.
One of the methods of fraud described in the indictment -- the failure to disburse loan proceeds to customers -- was first exposed during the state's 2003 investigation, records show.
Back then, the state levied a fine and made Spinner promise to stop breaking the law.
He also promised to tell clients they had been overcharged, and to offer them a refund, but he never did.
Pembroke Pines resident Scott Maurer didn't know he had been scammed for $1,500 until The Miami Herald contacted him last week -- five years after state regulators discovered it. Maurer said he was upset that Spinner ripped him off, but even more surprised that the state regulators found out about it and didn't let him know.
"I would have appreciated that," Maurer said, "it would have been a common courtesy."
In a letter to The Herald in June from a federal prison in Pennsylvania, Spinner admitted to the crimes. "I'm guilty. I did what I was convicted of," he wrote.
LACK OF PUNISHMENT
While the state was not keeping up with examinations of brokers, it also failed to punish even those they caught forging documents and stealing from customers.
Mortgage broker Samantha Johnson's first brush with regulators came in 1994.
Shortly after she started peddling loans, the state caught her enticing customers to take out loans for home repairs, while referring the work to her husband -- without disclosing their relationship.
They fined her $500 and made her promise to stop.
Then came the 2001 visit to her office, when regulators found she had been lying to hide questionable loans, forging documents and tacking illegal fees on to mortgages.
Again, they fined her and ordered her to stop.
Johnson was among more than a dozen brokers caught by regulators committing fraud who were allowed to keep working between 2000 and 2007, The Miami Herald found.
David Audiffred was twice caught by regulators gouging clients with illegal fees -- but managed to stay in the business until caught a third time.
State Mortgage and Investment Corporation was caught submitting fraudulent information to lenders and doctoring mortgage agreements with clients in 2001 and charging illegal interest rates in 2004, but was never kicked out of the industry.
Using a network of expert forgers and crooked contractors, Johnson devised a sophisticated plan to steal homes from the poor and elderly.
Johnson, a native of South Africa who had an office in Parkland, began by driving around impoverished Broward neighborhoods in search of homes that appeared to be abandoned or falling into disrepair.
After identifying possible targets, she filed false contractor liens to pave the way for taking ownership.
Using forged drivers licenses and notary stamps, she filed deeds transferring ownership of the homes to shell companies and aliases under her control.
Then, after taking ownership under the false name, she made her money in three simple steps: she got a mortgage on the home, took the money, and then sold the house to an unsuspecting buyer.
Again and again, she repeated the scheme -- at least 10 times on homes in distressed and working-class neighborhoods between 2000 and 2004.
In late 2001, Angel Robinson complained to regulators that Johnson scammed her into buying a dilapidated house in Plantation using a bogus appraisal. She told the OFR that Johnson had "pulled a costly scam on my family, the bank and me," pleading, "Please help me get my property back."
The state did not write her back for more than a year and a half.
Meanwhile, law enforcement launched an investigation after Johnson stole a house from a local developer who called the police.
As law enforcement agents rushed to put together their case, Johnson continued her scams, even while she knew she was under investigation.
"She just kept going," Broward Sheriff's Office Detective Brad Stephenson said.
In an effort to slow her down, Stephenson said he asked state regulators to bar Johnson from the business.
Though she had previously been caught twice by regulators violating the law, Stephenson said his pleas had no effect. "There were numerous requests to the state to suspend her license," he said. "That was a long and tedious process. It seemed to take longer than it should have."
Johnson stole James Simmons' Fort Lauderdale house while it was empty -- he had taken his terminally ill wife to Georgia to die near her family. The 64-year-old disabled Vietnam vet discovered that Johnson sold the house out from under him only after he returned to Florida in 2003.
After her arrest in 2004, federal authorities considered Johnson so dangerous -- a compulsive thief who had contacted a man with a violent past to "take care of" BSO Detective Stephenson -- that they asked the judge to keep in her jail while awaiting trial. The judge agreed.
Stephenson told the court that she shouldn't be let out on bond -- for fear that she would continue stealing homes.
But the Office of Financial Regulation didn't revoke Johnson's license until April 2005 -- three months after her conviction and eight months after she had been thrown in jail.
Janice Scott-Kittles is still fighting to get back the house Johnson stole from her mother, Hazel Scott, in 2004.
A public school teacher in Fort Lauderdale for more than 40 years, Scott was blind and suffering from Alzheimer's when she moved into a nursing home in 2000. That's when Johnson moved in, forging a deed and taking ownership of the elderly woman's home.
"She died," her daughter said. "We never told her what happened."