LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- A North Fort Myers trailer park owner claims he isn't racist, days after settling with federal prosecutors over allegations that he discriminated against African-Americans seeking to rent lots.
Thomas Mere of Mere's Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park has agreed to pay a $40,000 fine as a result.
"I had no idea something like this could happen in America!" says Mere. He runs three mobile home parks in Lee County and says in the more than 30 years he's been renting properties, he's never had a problem until now. "They're going out to small people trumping up charges knowing we can't go to court!"
Mere says it all started after a black man showed up asking if he had something to sell. "I knew, or I thought, I still had a mobile home for sale. And I said I have a mobile home, but I think I have a contract on it but I'm not positive. And he didn't ask to see it or anything."
The black man left, and then Mere says a while passed before a white man showed up asking the same thing. "During that time, my daughter and son-in-law said 'no, we have a contract on that home. But you do have a mobile home and an apartment for rent.' So I told the white man I've got a home and I've got an apartment for rent."
Mere claims because he didn't tell the black man about the mobile home and apartment for rent, the justice department says he discriminated. "I did not discriminate. If the white man had come first, I would have told him the same thing that I told the black man. You tell exactly what you know!"
But the government claims it was part of a pattern to discourage all African Americans from living in his parks.
Mere says he only settled because he can't afford the legal fight. "So I've got $75,000 and I didn't nothing wrong! And that can happen to everybody in America that rents a piece of property. The government can come down on you -- be careful!"
Under the settlement, $30,000 will go toward the victims of these discriminatory practices, and the rest will go to the federal government.