The Bizarre Case of Cole Bartiromo
COLE BARTIROMO: The Scammer & Extortionist Behind the Harassment Campaign Directed at Our Business
Since January 2020, we have been harassed by a cyberbully and convicted Internet scammer named Cole Bartiromo. Until recently, we knew him as Anthony Cole (he uses a multitude of different names and fake identities). On top of using fake accounts to post 1-star reviews of our business, he also posted a fake picture of a busted aquarium on our Google page – an aquarium that is not ours. He has been sending us screenshots of our plummeting ratings, gloating about his "accomplishments". This harassment campaign started when we dropped him as a client after months of abuse, yelling, middle-of-the-morning texting and voicemails, unpaid bills and most of all, willful and obstinate ignorance of the rules of keeping his marine tank.
Cole’s campaign has the goal of both appeasing his ego and extorting money from us which he claims we stole. The amount “stolen” ranges from $11,000, to $5,000, to $1,300, depending on which of his posts you read. In his texts, he claims that once the money is received, all his reviews will turn from negative to positive. We need to make it very clear. We work hard to keep our customers happy. Whenever there is an issue, we are committed to resolving it. We have never denied a customer a refund. But in this particular case, due to the circumstances listed below, a refund is out of the question. Complying with Cole Bartiromo's terms would only convince him that his abuse of his own aquarium is the norm, and affirm him in his belief that you can achieve anything by bullying. Bullying is literally his trade (source: https://www.thedailybeast.com/he-bullies-kids-and-calls-it-news-1) and we will have no part in encouraging it.
Timeline of Events:
1. Cole (Anthony, as he presented himself at the time) commissioned us to build him a tall 300 gallon tank “start to finish”. All he had to work off was pictures of large reef tanks he downloaded from the internet. He seemed to be under the impression he can get a tank like in the pictures within days or weeks. He acted surprised and suspicious when we told him that a living reef tank is a natural system that needs to be built from the ground up and would take months to establish. He displayed the same uninformed approach to the fish he wanted to observe in the tank. For instance, he insisted that he wants to keep puffers and seahorses together because he likes them both. When we told him those species can’t be tank mates, we received an overtly annoyed reaction. For lack of better description, he reacted as though we were lying to him. Overall, it seemed that the more information he got at this initial consulting stage, the more annoyance he displayed at why this reef hobby business had to be so complicated. And before spending a single cent, he was already lamenting how expensive everything was and how everybody in this hobby is a scam.
It is worth noting that we hardly ever provide any services past the aquarium building stage. When it comes to installation, rock work, filling up the tank with water and animals, we have only done that for a handful of clients based on their personal requests. Cole's reason to request this service was that he quite simply couldn't find anyone else to do it for him. We had first heard about him from a high-end coral store/maintenance professional who was enthused to work with Cole in the beginning (Cole touts big budgets to get your attention), but ended up dropping him because of the endless questioning, suspiciousness, and contradictory goals for the tank.
We thought that his suspiciousness must come from being a complete novice. We were certain the level of understanding and patience will grow in time, and were prepared to answer his questions till the cows come home. We also made it very clear that:
- we are not selling him one way or another;
- if we have to maintain his tank, it won't be for long (just enough to have life in it and make it suitable for the extravagant purchases he was planning later on);
- if he feels suspicious about the advice we are giving him he should educate himself and look for other opinions;
- and lastly, if he doesn't have the patience and the desire to learn, then this hobby may be too overwhelming for him.
2. In particular, we told Cole several times that, if he can’t handle the anticipation of building a live reef, or cannot find it in himself to learn about coral, he can opt for an artificial reef which would be pre-installed in his tank. In which case he would only need to learn about the fish (no small matter either, but more manageable). After realizing an artificial reef wouldn't look like “the real thing”, Cole firmly opted for the real one. He then proceeded to ask where exactly we will get him a full (as in, pre-grown) live reef. ....Yes, after multiple detailed emails and a visit to our shop, he was still under the impression that a live reef can be bought in one piece and kind of just plopped into the tank. So back we went to the explanations. It was then when we came up with a solution that we thought would be perfect for him: a solution that would basically allow him to see his future reef in advance.
3. The agreed-to plan was this:
- While his 300-gallon tank was still in production, we would set up a large 260 gallon holding tank at our facility and start filling it with coral and fish using the allotted budget of $10,000. This holding tank would be the “preview” for the items that are to be later on transferred into Cole’s own tank.
- Most of the $10,000 budget was to be used at our discretion, with a goal to establish the tank and create a good environment for the more demanding species later on. The fish were to be added in minimal quantities and the corals were supposed to be leathers, softies, and LPS. We did say that at the end of the process, some portion of the budget ($2,000-3,000) can be used with more direction from Cole. He also noted the few fish species he would absolutely want in the tank.
- The essential part of the plan – and this was made clear several times in writing – was that livestock would be transferred to Cole’s tank in portions, based on how the tank progresses. He was warned not to expect the first transfer for about 4-6 weeks after tank fill-up.
- We estimated the process of transferring the entire $10,000 budget was to take about 6 months, throughout which time we would have to be monitoring and maintaining the tank.
4. Cole’s tank was filled early March 2019 (with the holding tank having been stocked for about 3 months at that point). Despite prior discussions about adding livestock gradually, Cole started demanding to see fish in his tank immediately. Water quality was good to begin with, permitting us to start making small transfers at week 2, totaling 21 fish and 10 good-sized corals by week 5. Seeing that these new arrivals are doing well, Cole took it upon himself to speed up the process. Despite the "hands-off" agreement we had with him, he went and purchased $1,000 worth of anemones and a bunch of clown fish only 3 to 4 weeks in (most of the clown fish died by mid-April). His excuse for this was that he had initially informed us he wants to see clown fish in the tank, and we didn't say buying them would be a problem. He had completely ignored the fact that we had told him clowns and anemones would have to wait until month 5-6. We had even purchased 2 clowns and an anemone for the holding tank already, but he just couldn't wrap his head around the idea that they would have to stay there for a while.
We asked him to stop adding fish on his own unless he wants to see a failing tank -- but instead he went on a shopping spree. Within a month, he was rotating through scores of fish, most of them dying, the tank was deteriorating, but he wouldn't believe the high levels were a direct result of his overstocking. He would text and send long-winded voicemails 20-30 times a day, many of them at odd hours of the night and early morning. He blamed everyone but himself: the fish stores for selling him the fish; us for doing a poor job on the water; the "scam industry" as a whole, with all these rules that are impossible to follow. It's hard to explain the level of immaturity, but as a reference, he would take it as a personal insult and call "bullshit" that you can only have 1 or 2 mandarin gobies, or 2 or 3 royal gamma per tank -- he felt entitled to having 8-9 of each, and "a school of clown fish".
Starting with month 2, he refused to pay for maintenance –- and told us to take it out of the “coral budget”. He didn't pay for maintenance until September, but kept piling up requests to purchase equipment that was supposed to save his tank and make it immune to overstocking. We were supposed to take the cost of that equipment "out of the coral budget" as well.
5. Throughout these months, he never stopped buying new fish, corals, and anemones. It became an endless cycle of him adding more fish, yelling about it dying, hearing the lecture of "we told you so", ignoring it, going to the forums to read up on what went wrong, finding some magical equipment or technique that we had failed to implement on his tank, and returning to buying more fish. In September, we made one final attempt and secured his promise to not shop for new fish until Christmas. In the 2 months that followed (when this condition was actually met) we restored the tank to relatively good parameters and were able to add a batch of corals mid-November. We still said we need to take it very slow on the fish.
6. It was then that Cole suggested to allot a $1,000 monthly budget for fish that we would buy for him. This would eliminate the problem of constant overstocking and Cole’s poor choices with the species, so we agreed. Cole now claims it was WE who came to him to request more money, and that this additional $1,000 we got from him is proof that we are scammers. This $1,000 in fact proves the opposite. It seems inconceivable that an individual as well-versed in money matters as Cole claims to be, would contribute another $1,000 if we hadn’t delivered the previous $10,000. The only reason is that Cole fully knew the original $10,000 had been sitting in our holding tank for a full year. He was in fact standing right by that holding tank and looking at those corals even as he was committing to a new $1,000 purchase of fish! Those fish, along with another batch of our stocked coral, were delivered to him mid-December, namely (1) blue tang, (1) yellow tang, (1) Africa cleaner wrasse, (1) cleaner bi-color wrasse, (1) orange back fairy wrasse, (1) pintail fairy wrasse, (1) yellow coris wrasse, (1) exquisite wrasse, (5) lyretail anthias (1 male, 4 female), (10) scarlet hermit crabs, (6) electric blue hermits. These were (14) fish and (16) crabs that Cole claims in his posts (depending on which one you read) he never got or are not worth the money he paid. Making up a similar cart on liveaquaria.com or saltwaterfish.com will give you a similar number. Moreover, after the purchase, Cole said he was happy with it and still committed to spending $1,000 monthly. He was insisting on paying another $1,000 to get more fish in January, but we declined as the previous addition to the tank was already large enough. Plus, he was still continuing to buy more fish on his own, hindering our efforts to safely move his remaining coral into his tank.
7. The final straw in our relationship with Cole came as a result of one long night of non-stop texting and voicemailing where he decided he is going to fix his dosing system and informed us about it every step of the way through the early hours of the morning. We respectfully withdrew our services and recommended to him the most chill, laid-back maintenance person there can possibly exist. Now, a few weeks into his maintenance job, this guy, too, has been subjected to bullying, endless outside-of-business-hours texting, non-stop complaints, shifting of responsibility, and dealing with the scores of fish that Cole is still putting uncontrollably in his tank.
8. To sum it up, Cole’s $11,000 budget was never "stolen", it has either been transferred into has tank or still sitting in our large holding tank, which we are paying to upkeep for months longer now than we originally had planned. Because he flunked the relationship with his new maintenance person, his tank is still in no condition to accept the remaining creatures. For a while we were torn between the choices of just dumping it all in to get this over with, or preserving the animals that would undoubtedly die in his care. He made the choice for us by saying he won't accept the remaining livestock and only wants money.
It is worth nothing that his initial budget was significantly shortened by the months of unpaid maintenance visits and equipment purchases that he didn't want to pay for and insisted on "taking out of the coral budget". Even with the exclusion of these items, we absolutely refuse to refund this coral since we had no part in creating the severe overstocking that prevented the transfer of the coral to Cole in the first place.
For all of you who come across this person, STEER CLEAR. He will ask you for assistance and throw money in your face to show he can afford it, but if you get in any way involved with him he will ignore everything you recommend and hold you responsible for the things he did with his own hands. You are not safe selling fish to him, you are not safe giving him any sort of advice or opinion (because he will then say you TOLD him to do this and that), you are not safe even discussing fish food with him -- he will pick and choose the bits of information he wants to process. At best, you will end up going around in circles with explanations falling on deaf ears. At worst, you will be declared public enemy number one. If he can't get his way, he will initiate cyberbullying campaigns, which is a trade he has mastered (source: https://www.thedailybeast.com/he-bullies-kids-and-calls-it-news-1)
More links to show just what sort of person this is (wish we had Googled him before we ever committed to working with him):
https://www.ocregister.com/2010/12/12/former-teen-swindler-tries-to-start-over/ -- he is giving speeches to the youth at the same time as he is trying to swindle online gambling sites (source: https://www.sportsbookreview.com/forum/sportsbooks-industry/932470-sportsbook-com-has-disabled-my-account-25-000-balance-after-winning-sb-parlays-p22.html)
https://twitter.com/mariabartiromo/status/726651388806205440?lang=en - pretending. to be the cousin of Maria Bartiromo so he can get publicity
Any person and business at this age can become a victim of online bullying. We have a temporary restraining order issued against this person and were advised not to engage in any interaction with him – but request that you share a link to this page whenever you see his posts, especially ones made under a hidden or false identity. Every customer, including Cole, has a right to a review, positive or negative. But if you have to resort to multiplying your reviews under fake personalities, you have to wonder if your case is strong enough.