Corrupt loan practices left a blight of decaying homes

Decaying and neglected homes are Orson Benn's legacy in Miami-Dade County, where the New York lender and his associates at Argent Mortgage wrote $349 million in loans on nearly 2,000 properties.

At least 600 of the homes entered the foreclosure process, nearly three times the rate of other homes in Miami-Dade.

The troubled properties -- apartments, town homes and suburban ranches -- cut across the county, with tight clusters in the north and west. Nearly half are in West Kendall. Ten percent are in Miami, concentrated in Liberty City. Five percent are in Hialeah and Miami Gardens.

Experts say the impact of foreclosured homes on neighborhoods will be felt for years.

''It is a vicious cycle,'' said Miami real estate attorney Samira Ghazal. ``The houses become vacant, they get vandalized, and more houses become foreclosures.''

While it's unclear how many of Benn's loans are based on false and misleading information, The Miami Herald found hundreds of questionable transactions surrounding the mortgages.

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