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Mobile home owner files slander lawsuit

The owner of Hacienda Village Mobile Home Park has filed a slander lawsuit against a longtime advocate for mobile home residents.

Saleh "Sam" Hachem, who also owns the USA Fleamarket (formerly Fleamasters), contends that John R. Steele, a retiree active in the Federation of Mobile Home Owners of Florida, made false and damaging statements about Hachem's financial condition.

Hachem claimed Steele's statements are untrue and cost him business. He is seeking unspecified damages of more than $15,000, the threshold for filing a suit in circuit court.

Steele denies the allegation and provides a different reason Hachem filed the lawsuit Monday: Steele has been fighting a rent increase at the park where he lives _ the Hachem-owned Hacienda Village.

"My first thought was, there isn't one iota of truth in the whole suit," Steele said Wednesday. "The man is just aggravated, because we're not going along with any $25 increase."

Steele said he currently pays $172 a month, and says the $25 increase Hachem has proposed starting Jan. 1 would pose a hardship for him and the many residents of mobile home parks who make do with fixed incomes.

The lawsuit claims Steele began to make false statements about Hachem's finances after Hachem refused to give Steele a special exemption from the rent increase, in exchange for supporting the increase publicly.

"Everything in there is a lie," said Steele, 68. "I will take a lie detector test about all these things. . . . People who know me know I would never in a million years do that."

Hacienda Village, at the intersection of Nebraska Avenue and Rowan Road near New Port Richey, has about 450 occupied homes, Steele said.

Hachem could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

No court date has yet been set.

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