Main Street Leasing Building on 5th Ave. and Donnelly St. in downtown Mount Dora
Opinions. It seems everyone has one.
In July, an attorney for Main Street Leasing (MSL) and its owner Ken Mazik, a prominent downtown Mount Dora businessman, sent a missive to a local woman demanding a public apology for critical opinions she expressed. The letter dictated that her apology must include arguably demeaning language about herself in order to avoid a defamation lawsuit. The resident, Amber Antonio, refused and was sued on August 16.
Mazik’s attorney’s letter cited comments Antonio made on social media in 2015, as well as remarks made at a 2017 Mount Dora City Council meeting, as defamatory. Antonio’s posted opinions were critical of MSL and Mazik, and her comments at the city council meeting referred to preferential treatment of unnamed Mount Dora property owners without specifically identifying Mazik or MSL.
This month, another local resident, John Sharp, received a similar letter from Mazik’s attorney threatening legal action. Antonio, a Mount Dora High School and University of Central Florida graduate, believes the lawsuit is Mazik’s way of using his money to bully and silence his detractors.
Antonio and Sharp aren’t alone in their rebuke of Mazik’s practices. In addition to local criticism, the businessman has garnered unfavorable regional and national media coverage since 1979. The New York Times published a critical exposé as far back as 1997. Much more recent articles covered everything from downtown Mount Dora’s empty buildings to accusations of abuse at Mazik’s local school for severely disabled children, as well as profiting from a system designed to protect those children.
Mount Dora resident Amber Antonio
The lawsuit asserts that during 2015 and 2016, Antonio posted comments to four articles including one titled “Downtown Property to Change Hands” by Mount Dora Buzz regarding the sale of The Drawer building on Donnelly Street. That property is among several in the city’s downtown core that remain largely vacant since being purchased by Mazik’s company. MSL’s other vacancies include the buildings on the northern side of the 5th Avenue block between Donnelly and Alexander, the historic Princess Theater and the Sears house at 4th and Alexander, among others.
There are always two sides to a story and this one is no different. MSL has made corporate donations to Lake Cares Food Pantry and the City of Mount Dora's Police Department, and has helped sponsor events at Mount Dora Center for the Arts.
In a letter, Antonio’s attorney, James Homich, asserted a successful defamation suit requires Mazik to prove her statements were not merely opinions but actually false. Financial losses and damage to his reputation caused by Antonio must also be substantiated, according to Homich, who believes the decades of unfavorable news articles make that difficult. If the suit makes it to court, a civil trial jury could decide the case.