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Fraud victims blame state comptroller

More than 200 investors defrauded by a Tampa securities firm 10 years ago are blaming state Comptroller Gerald Lewis for their pain and suffering.

They have banded together to file a notice of a claim for damages _ the precursor to a lawsuit _ in hopes of getting millions of dollars back from the state.

"We're not talking about losing money. We've lost self-esteem, we've lost pride and we've lost life," said James Hansen, co-chairman of a victims committee representing people defrauded by GIC Government Securities, a Tampa firm shut down in 1985.

The victims, many of them senior citizens on fixed incomes, say Lewis waited too long to take action against the company. Even after the comptroller's office entered into a consent order with GIC in June 1985, the company was allowed to continue operating and selling "bogus securities," the victims say.

The claim announced Thursday covers 233 investors who still are owed some $6-million. Hansen said lives have been ruined by the securities scandal. One man even called him to say he was going to kill himself over his losses and he did, Hansen said.

Deputy Comptroller Tom Wells, who oversees banking and securities for the comptroller's office, on Thursday defended the department's actions in the GIC case. He said the company was not immediately shut down so that investors could get their money back before GIC went into receivership and got tangled in lawsuits.

The victims group and its attorney appeared Thursday with Bob Milligan, the Republican opposing Lewis in the comptroller's race. The group also has gotten help from lawyers working on Milligan's campaign.