Is Flats Chicago practicing review fraud?

by Joe Zekas on 4/21/14

YoChicago has zero tolerance for the comment fraud and review fraud that some inept landlords and rental services seem to find attractive. Our Privacy policy provides that you expressly waive its protections if you engage in deceit on behalf of a business in our comments.

On April 14 a commenter with the screen name of Ant wrote the following in response to a post about a Flats Chicago renter’s problems with the company:

I am not really looking to stand up for flats as I have never been in their buildings but it really seems like you have it out to get them…why are you so focused on them? There are so many far worse buildings in our neighborhood. It just seems a bit weird to me.

Ant’s comment was one of several suspect comments on our post, and his IP address was also the source of comments posted under the screen names of Zorica and Ravi. The IP address is assigned to an IT consultant whose clients include affiliates of Flats Chicago.

The above Yelp review was posted on behalf of Ant “Ant Muggz” M on April 14. YoChicago commenter Ant had never been in a Flats building while Ant Muggz had recently been to one. There’s reason to believe Ant and Ant Muggz are the same person.

The email address supplied by YoChicago commenter Ant begins with antmuggs. A Google search for antmuggs leads to the LinkedIn profile pictured above for Anthony Mugnolo, who reports being currently employed as a “Creative Assistant at Flats Chicago.”

Ant Muggz posted 3 of his 4 Yelp reviews on April 14, several days after our post. His only other review on Yelp was posted last September.

Yelper Andrew J posted 3 reviews on April 16, his first-ever, including the highly-suspect take on Flats Chicago pictured in the above screen cap.

Fraudulent reviews and comments are serious offenses in violation of Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Yelp has filed lawsuits against fraudulent reviewers and the FTC and New York Attorney General have hit businesses engaging in the practice with substantial fines.

There’s a pattern to comments about Flats Chicago on this site. Negative comments come from identifiable individuals who can document that they are Flats residents; positive commenters are anonymous, and some have multiple screen names. Doing business with a company that engages in comment / review fraud is risky and, in my opinion, to be avoided.

In the devious world of Chicago real estate, there’s always the possibility that Flats Chicago is the victim of a subtle scheme perpetrated by one of its competitors or one of Chicago’s rental services. It’s also possible that Flats Chicago is the victim of a rogue employee. Some might think it possible that people who plant false information are so mentally or morally handicapped that they don’t realize that what they’ve done is wrong. Those all strike me as extremely remote possibilities.

Note: I reached out to Anthony Mugnolo via email with an outline of the contents of this post and gave him a phone number where he could reach me with any comments or questions. He hasn’t responded, but his Yelp review of Flats was subsequently deleted. We’ve fully documented it with screen caps.

Added 4/22: The LinkedIn profile pictured at the beginning of this post is no longer available. Another one of his Yelp reviews, which we’ve documented, has been deleted.

Mugnolo’s Facebook account still reflects his association with Flats Chicago. Will that be the next item to vanish down the memory hole?

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Related posts:

  1. Behind the façade at Flats Chicago on Clybourn
  2. Flats Chicago – proceed with caution, renters
  3. A report from another discontented resident at Flats No. 5411
  4. Flats Chicago still falling flat on Clybourn

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy Lynch April 21, 2014 at 11:00 AM

It was obvious years ago that flats was a bunch of scamming hypsters. It’s pathetic that alderman cappleman and his web arm of uptown update was so eager to prop them up.

Reply

J. Ryan Potts April 21, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Unless you have information that what was posted was indeed false, I would reconsider that accusations of fraud. Further, your indictment and callous use of the word fraud when describing a company; when an employee allegedly posted on a site, should be also reconsidered.

Reply

Joe Zekas April 21, 2014 at 3:04 PM

J. Ryan Potts,

It’s been a while since I practiced law, so you’ll have to explain to me how an individual can make two completely inconsistent claims without at least one of them being false, and how pretending to be someone you aren’t isn’t fraudulent.

Has the company fired the individual? Apologized for his actions?

I’ve reconsidered – and stand by what I wrote.

Added: Is there a reason you didn’t mention that your firm has apparently done work for Cedar Street, an affiliate of Flats Chicago? Isn’t it common for attorneys to disclose any interest they have in a matter?

Reply

IrishPirate April 21, 2014 at 9:00 PM

I was waiting for the inevitable Zekasian riposte to the JRP comment. Not quite the second Louis V Schleming bout, but close enough. Joe Zekas has been in publishing for over 20 years so I’m fairly sure he has a good grasp of any potential legal risks he might take by making an assertion or comment on this or any other blog.

As for FLATS my suggestion is forget the hype/marketing and concentrate on getting your buildings renovated and occupied. Parties across from the Uptown Target at the old Salvation Army location are nice, but occupied apartments……..nicer. By the way I believe the party was about two years ago. Time to make the donuts guys and get those buildings renovated.

Once decently renovated those buildings should rent quickly. While not Lincoln Park those locations are still good from a business point of view. Hell, this week’s Crains has a story about how LP has gone to the baby stroller crowd. LP ain’t even LP anymore.

As for “Jeremy Lynch” I pointed out his trolliness and real name weeks ago in another FLATS related post. Like jock itch, mice and tea partiers one can never truly get rid of him.

……….and the beat goes on.

Reply

Joe Zekas April 21, 2014 at 9:59 PM

IP,

I’d suggest that JRP read my post as carefully as a judge would.

In the distant past when I practiced law – the late 70s – one of my clients was a tabloid publisher. Good exposure to the legal risks of the business I’ve been in since 1987.

I’ve been threatened with litigation many times. I’ve been sued only once for something I wrote, by a developer. Knowing that a defamation claim would fail, his attorney tried “tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.”

That suit was quickly dismissed when he realized that what I’d be able to document as a result of the discovery process wouldn’t be good for his business. We’ve been on a friendly basis since then.

Reply

AJ April 23, 2014 at 11:33 AM

whoa

Reply

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