The task force recommended keeping the fund, but streamlining the process and putting a priority on claims from people who borrowed money to buy their home.
In response, Lewis thanked the task-force members for their expertise and "public spirit, " but warned that some of their recommendations would not be followed.
The special fund once hailed by Lewis as a great benefit to fraud victims was on the way out.
CHANGING THE LAW
By early 1991, Lewis' director of finance, Randall Holland, was helping to rewrite the state's mortgage broker law. It didn't change much, except for the sudden appearance of four sentences that effectively killed the Mortgage Brokerage Guaranty Fund.
Broward County mortgage broker Robert Lurer -- who served on the task force and helped Holland rewrite the law -- said he distinctly remembers that Holland wanted to kill the program.
"I remember Randy saying, 'Is it really a function of government to protect people from mortgage fraud by giving repayment to them?' I said, 'Yeah.' "
Interviewed recently from his home in Los Angeles, Holland said he hasn't thought about mortgage regulation in 15 years since leaving Tallahassee to make his living as a professional poker player.
He said he doesn't remember exactly who composed the lines that killed the trust fund, but acknowledged, "I worked on it a lot. I did a lot of drafting myself."
The changed bill passed both houses of the Legislature in 1991 with barely a mention, getting exactly 65 seconds of discussion on the Senate floor.
"We've made a few necessary changes based on the advice of the comptroller and the action of the committee, " declared Sen. W.D. Childers, D-Pensacola. "And there is nothing controversial whatsoever about the act."
It passed 37-0.
Then-Comptroller Lewis has not responded to repeated phone calls and e-mail messages requesting comment for this report.
Lurer said he is still troubled by the change. "If it was for budget reasons, I would have understood, " said Lurer, a mortgage broker for 41 years. "But the industry was willing to pay for the fund. The regulators were saying, 'No, we'll do away with it.' "
In the ensuing years, Florida went through a land boom that tripled the number of brokers in the state -- and raised the state's mortgage fraud rate to the highest in the country.
As other states experienced increases in mortgage fraud, lawmakers in those states, including Texas and Oklahoma, began to respond with reimbursement programs for victims.
Other states, like California, had already established their own guaranty funds to help allay the crisis.
By 2006, the vast majority of states were relying on two consumer protection measures: guaranty funds or surety bonds, which require brokers to buy private insurance to cover fraud. Florida has neither.
In Texas, state regulators assess a $20 fee when brokers first get their license, and every two years when they renew. Payouts are capped at $25,000 a claim.
"With a guaranty fund, we have a ready source of cash" for defrauded borrowers, said Doug Foster, commissioner of the Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending.
Even in Florida, many other professions have guaranty funds: stockbrokers, builders, even auctioneers.
In the past four years, the Securities Guaranty Trust Fund paid out more than $1.2 million to investors defrauded by stockbrokers.
"Others have a guaranty fund. Why can't we?" Lurer said.