ORLANDO – A longtime friend of Winter Garden businessman Richard Mask said he was repulsed when he heard a tape of The Guetzloe Report by the man Mask is suing for defamation, Doug Guetzloe.
“Revulsion, I guess, would be the proper word,” businessman Bert Roper said. “Sickening. Nauseating.”
But what Roper couldn’t say, when questioned by Guetzloe’s attorney, was whether Mask had suffered a loss in his reputation among family, friends and collagues after the broadcast. In fact, Roper testified that the exact opposite happened and they rallied around Mask.
“I think it changed their opinion to the goodness of his character,” Roper said.
Mask is suing Guetzloe, claiming he implied on his radio program that Mask went into a mobile home park in Winter Garden called Trailer City looking to pick up young boys. Guetzloe has denied that allegation, and the trial started this week in Orange County Courthouse.
The case dates back to 2006, and follows a political battle over efforts to shut down Trailer City. Proponents of the shutdown on the Winter Garden city commission had cited fire safety concerns, since the trailers were close to one another.
Residents living there, and Guetzloe, fought the closing, claiming it was simply the city’s efforts to sell off prime property on Lake Apopka to developers, forcing elderly residents out of their homes. They ultimately won the battle when they recalled a commissioner who supported the closing and defeated another by a challenger who opposed the plan.
Mask, a former member of the city’s zoning board, had been seen in Trailer City by one of the park’s supporters, talking to some children. In his radio broadcast, Guetzloe said “Richard Mask was seen in the park, Trailer City, in the park apparently approaching two young boys who live in the park, and that, in and of itself, is needless to say a concern. I certainly wouldn’t approach a car with Richard Mask in it. But apparently he is also cruising Trailer City. So now we find out that Mr. Mask is cruising Trailer City apparently trying to talk to young boys out of his car …. I don’t know what his problem is, but he needs to stay away from young boys.”
Mask sued, claiming Guetzloe had implied that he was a pedophile. Guetzloe said he was questioning whether Mask was in the park looking for code violations that could help close it, since the park was slated for adults only.
Mask’s attorney, Howard Marks, called Roper to the stand on Wednesday, and the businessman said he had known Mask since 1960.
“If I know anybody, I know Richard Mask,” he said. “He grew up around the corner.” Roper also said that Mask had worked for him at one point.
Marks asked if Roper knew Guetzloe, and Roper responded, “He taught me some new words in my vocabulary.”
Roper testified that on the day after Guetzloe’s radio broadcast, Mask brought him a tape recording of the program.
“He came to my home and had a tape and asked me if I had a tape player,” Roper said. “I played it.”
Roper said he was appalled by the recording, and felt Mask had been as well.
“Richard is a very unusual human being,” he said. “I sensed he was very, very upset.”
Roper also testified that he had he had been included in a federal copyright infringement lawsuit Guetzloe had filed against Mask and Monique Bollhoefer, the women who taped the radio show and gave the tape to Mask.
“Mr. Guetzloe, to my recollection, had included me in his suit,” Roper said. “We went to mediation and I asked to be released from the suit and they did not release me. They would not allow me to be out of the case.”
Roper said that while the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, he incurred attorney’s fees while fighting it, and said Guetzloe owed him that money.
Under cross examination, Guetzloe’s attorney, Fred O’Neal, asked what kind of damages Mask suffered after the radio show. He started by asking Roper what his reaction was after he heard Guetzloe’s show.
“Did that change in any way your opinion of Mr. Mask,” O’Neal asked.
Roper said it had — but in a positive, not negative, way.
“It deepened my love for Mr. Mask,” he said.
When O’Neal asked if the recording had changed other people’s opinion of Mask, he added, “I think people were endeared to Mr. Mask.”
When O’Neal pressed Roper to say how the broadcast had damaged Mask’s reputation, Roper said the program “was detrimental to our community. Yes, I think there’s been great harm done to our entire community due to Mr. Guetzloe’s actions,” although he did not elaborate.
The defense is expected to call its witnesses on Thursday, with the case possibly going to jurors on Friday. Judge Jose R. Rogriguez said the case was moving at a good pace.
“We’re making good progress,” he said.
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