One day, a man named Monty White Jr. decided to start a heating and air conditioning company based in Marietta, GA. The company did legitimate HVAC work. But it also developed a reputation for diagnosing nonexistent problems, and clobbering customers with a "no refunds" policy buried in its standard contract.
Monty's company drew some deserved attention from the Better Business Bureau, and Randy Travis of WAGA. Travis produced a piece on it five years ago, outlining its sketchy practices.
It was solid reporting, but it could have easily been lumped among the many scheisters exposed, then forgotten, on local news. But five years later, Travis's piece still resonates especially with Monty White Jr.
Monty is now a man in a cyberbunker, waging war on reporters like Travis, and on customers who go public with their unhappy experiences with his HVAC company.
Monty's company is now called Mechanic's Heating and Air Conditioning. It currently has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. Travis reports he's done business under several names.
Monty has lots of web sites (I'll provide no links), all of them within the umbrella of his HVAC company, and an LLC awkwardly called Mechanic's Responds. The latter is his "news" organization (with a logo for what he calls "the F team"). Its purpose is to answer Monty's critics.
So far, so good. Monty White Jr. has as much right as anybody to use the internet to talk about whatever he wants. A genuinely aggrieved party might take issue with news coverage or customer complaints by detailing the issues faced in the disputes, and making his case. Monty does a little bit of that.
But he does much more.
Using public records, he has posted Randy Travis's home address in Lawrenceville. Monty has also posted the names of Travis's wife and children, and the property tax records of his home.
He has done the same to customers. In a wickedly perverse twist, Monty has purchased URLs that mimic the names of his targets. For example, Simon Weinstein is a former customer who spoke with Travis years ago. Go to simonweinstein.com, and you'll see Monty's hit on Weinstein, listing his home address, its tax records, and links to Weinstein's divorce records. There are a dozen or so other examples.
What Monty has done to Wendy Saltzman is even worse. Saltzman, of WGCL, conducted a hidden-camera sting in February that snared Mechanics among a number of sketchy HVAC dealers. Saltzman has told her viewers that Monty retaliated by posting her home address and phone number on one of his web sites.
Monty has supplemented his attack on Saltzman. He has a page calling her a "lying bitch," and is loaded with sexually explicit innuendo that could be used to smear anybody. Except he doesn't do it to Travis. Monty, a twice-divorced father of four girls, appears to save his ugliest attacks for women.
Saltzman has made an impact in her seven years in Atlanta as an investigative reporter. It would be easy to suggest that she dismiss Monty's nasty missives, posted on sites nobody reads.
But Monty plays the search engine game with a measure of skill. Saltzman values her reputation and plays hardball. She's talking with defamation attorney Lin Wood, who reportedly reached settlements with NBC, CNN and the New York Post over the Richard Jewell libel case.
That may make the hairs on Monty's neck stand a bit.
On one hand, nobody in the news biz wants to set up First Amendment roadblocks. If you try to curb a guy like Monty, you curb free speech. On the other hand, legitimate news folk don't play "news" the way Monty does, with an utter absence of a conscience or ethics. Got a beef with a reporter? Make your case. But post a reporter's home address? It's not relevant. It's mere harassment, designed to have a chilling effect.
I produced a story about Monty's curious customer relations this month, interviewing Weinstein. The piece lacked the hidden-camera heft of Saltzman and Travis's pieces.
Monty responded with an email crowing that, because of all of the fab news coverage his company has gotten, he would post "as seen on TV" emblems on his Mechanics trucks.
Since then, Monty has written some dark emails to me demanding this-and-that, while ignoring my interview requests. I fully expect him to post my home address, which is 602 N. Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta GA 30307. Maybe he'll buy dougrichards.com, which is currently owned by a domain broker who wants $1800 for it.
Since I'm not female, I doubt he'll disparage me sexually.
What won't he do? According to Fred Elsberry of the Atlanta Better Business Bureau, improving his business methods doesn't rank high on his to-do list. He's got lots of time to create numerous web sites that slam customers and reporters. He even wrote a song about Simon Weinstein.
But actually improving his "F" rating? That would take real work.