CFI Mortgage Inc. on Monday said it will need more time to report its fourth-quarter earnings because of problems associated with a continuing investigation of a former executive.

In an interview, the Clearwater, Fla., lender's chief executive said the circumstances that led it to request the delay were related to matters that had prompted the dismissal in February of one of its top executives.

The company said that when it does file it will report its second consecutive quarter of profits. The third quarter of 2000 was CFI's first profitable one since the company went public in 1997, said Stephen E. Williams, CFI's chairman, president, and chief executive. CFI reported earnings of $167,760 for the three months ended Sept. 30 but a $900,000 loss for the first nine months.

Nonetheless, the actions of a top official at CFI have overshadowed some of its happier news.

In March, the company issued a statement in which it said it had terminated "for cause" the employment of Gary Fioretti, who had been an executive vice president, director of mortgage operations, and a board member. At the time, the company would say only that the details of Mr. Fioretti's departure were "of a sensitive nature" and that it would refrain from comment "pending further investigation."

Mr. Williams elaborated, however, on Monday. He said federal investigators are looking into the deposit of checks sent to CFI's First United MortgageBanc unit into accounts of FLAMG Mortgage Inc., a bankrupt company owned by Mr. Fioretti. FLAMG is now under protection from its creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The problem was discovered in January, Mr. Williams said.

Other problems for CFI relate to documents signed by Mr. Fioretti in which he allegedly represented himself as an officer of First United when he was not, Mr. Williams said. "He was an officer and director of the parent company, not the mortgage company," he said.

Attempts to reach Mr. Fioretti were unsuccessful. His listed home phone number in Clearwater, Fla., has been disconnected.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it is now finishing work on last year's operating results and that it expects to file its annual statement late this week or early next week.

CFI's profit performance still is a comeback from its declared bankruptcy in 1998. Since then the company has diversified somewhat. It continues to operate as a residential mortgage lender through First United, its main mortgage lending subsidiary, but it has also entered the software development business.

CFI bought Black Car 2000 Software, a limousine reservation, scheduling, maintenance, and billing systems company, in December. In March it bought Surfside Software Systems Inc., a medical and emergency services routing company. The software business of CFI now operates under the Surfside name, Mr. Williams said.

"You don't find too many business models diversified by banking, finance, and software," Mr. Williams said. He added that the move was designed to spread a safety net under the company and help expand its earnings. "When we do have a downturn in the mortgage market, we can offset that by gains that we're going to have in the sales of our software," he said.

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