Aircon biz fined $1.3m after boss set up attack websites slamming critical punters

Things got real weird with Atlanta HVAC company

No one likes getting negative reviews online, and it's no secret that many business owners try to fudge the system by posting positive reviews of themselves under pseudonyms.

But Mechanic's Heating and Air Conditioning – based in Marietta just outside Atlanta, Georgia, in the US – has taken it to a whole new level.

The company and its owner Monty White have been fined a staggering $1.3m by a Cobb county court this week for what Georgia's Attorney General Sam Olens called "deliberately dishonest, deceptive, and intimidating tactics."

Posting fake reviews for your own business is against the law in Georgia, but that didn't stop White, who decided to hit back against years of negative reviews and formal complaints from customers to the Better Business Bureau.

It won't come as a surprise to hear that a HVAC company has been accused of coming up with fake problems, overcharging customers, and doing sloppy work. What was unusual was White's response to the gripes.

In addition to fake reviews on Yelp, Kudzu, Google+ and (discovered thanks to them all coming from the same IP address), White went on personal vendettas against critical customers – by setting up "attack websites" on which he posted their private details alongside aggressive and occasionally expletive-laden counter-complaints.

One website highlighted as a result of the legal action was "on which they posted harassing and intimidating remarks about the consumers", according to the Attorney General's statement in the case.

Not the first time

The company has been doing this for years. Back in 2012, news station Fox 5 even did a special report on Mechanic's Heating and Air Conditioning. In that piece, it was alleged that White and his company found photos of customers' families and posted them online with abusive comments.

One customer complained that an advertised $29.95 call-out fee instantly inflated to over $114.95 before any work was done. In response, the person received an email from White telling him to "go look on the internet." White had registered the customer's name as a domain name, and posted photos from his wedding that he had found online, complete with aggressive comments.

Incredibly, that 2012 news report noted that five years earlier the reporters had investigated the same company, finding that its representative embellished repair work, misdiagnosed problems and even installed the wrong materials.

Youtube video

Going even further, when Mechanic’s Heating and Air was featured on ratings site Angie's List under the heading "Worst Atlanta Contractors of 2012", White responded to queries by claiming to be a reporter and pointing the company to his "news site".

As well as that "news" site – which White updated with the names of unhappy customers – the county court in Georgia ordered him this week to remove all content for a further 61 websites that it says "were being used for the purpose of harassing consumers." The court found that the company had violated the state’s Fair Business Practices Act "at least" 263 times.

In addition to the fine, White was ordered to pay court costs and attorneys’ fees and told to dissolve a number of companies he had set up, including Teldar Staffing Services, LLC; Rhino Asset Management, LLC; Mechanic’s News, LLC; Jupiter Asset Management, LLC; and HVAC Consulting Services, LLC.

But perhaps the sweetest news for the hundreds of customers of Mechanic’s Heating and Air over the years: all defendants in the case must "permanently cease and desist from doing business in the heating and air conditioning industry within the State of Georgia, and surrender all business and trade licenses."

In other words, game over. ®

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