“What you can’t buy, you gotta steal, and what you can’t steal, you better leave,” Joe Strummer.
“When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him, you must shun him in the streets of the town, you must shun him in the shop, you must shun him in the fairgreen and in the marketplace, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his country as if he were the leper of old, you must show your detestation of the crime he has committed,” Charles Stuart Parnell.
“I am what I am,” Popeye the sailor.
“Me too,” Gonz Blinko.
I originally posted this article a week ago. The version I put up then did contain a pair of minor factual errors which I would have fixed and reposted as I have in the past after learning that I got something wrong. I then had a named source ask, after approving the article the day before, that I remove their name from the piece and I elected to pull the entire article. Later last week, an individual found the article on Google’s cache (something I didn’t know existed) and sent out the link on Twitter and FaceBook. I also learned that an aggregator site called Blind Planet (a site which I did not previously know about) had an automated system that republishes everything I post to this blog. At least one other blogger reposted the version found in the Google cache.
After posting the article last week, I received phone calls, emails, DMS and other communication from a lot of people angry with me. One wanted to protect the person discussed in this piece; the others were angry that I had taken it down. I found myself between a rock and a hard place and chose to put the blog on hiatus. I have decided to repost the article because it’s out there already on other sites and I had lost control of the article and couldn’t edit to remove, fix or update it in the future.
If you read the version on Google cache, this version is hardly different; it is, however, editted substantially from the version on Blind Planet.
Fundamentally, I cannot be myself and also participate in a cover-up. This article is very well sourced and, while it contains my opinions on the matter, the narrative has been double and triple checked and the sources stand by their statements.
When I write articles critical of a business, such are almost exclusively huge corporations (Apple, Google, Oracle, Uber, etc, the leading access technology companies( Freedom Scientific, the company formerly known as GW Micro, etc.) or misbehaved advocacy organizations, most notably NFB. I rarely mention individuals in a negative light. I prefer punching up and ignoring bad actors among small companies and people in this industry as the big guys make using technology difficult for far more people with disabilities. This time, I’m making an exception to this rule as the actions of the central figure in this story has done so many things to hurt so many that my personal outrage and that of others who know the whole story is so great that it absolutely must be told, if only to protect others from being victimized in the future.
The events described herein started three years ago and this piece does not cite every single incident of unethical, immoral and, in some cases, illegal acts by the mostly insignificant consulting company EZ Fire and Pratik Patel, it’s leader, a person whom I believe to be a sociopath.
This article details some of the worst of Patel’s offenses, the people he hurt and my role and that of some of my friends in covering up the story as it unfolded. While never violent, Pratik Patel is a dangerous individual and he will cause you some personal pain if and when you try to do business with him. When I learned of his most recent crime spree, all victimizing the same person, I felt compelled to bring as many of his disasters to the public eye as I could in order that people may read about them and refuse to let him hurt anymore blind professionals and others working to further the cause of universal accessibility.
Suffice it to say that Pratik Patel is a danger to anyone he comes near and take note that EZ Fire is not a real business but, rather, a public display of Patel’s delusions.
I have spoken to or exchanged written communication with every victim mentioned in this article with the exception of one (Eric Bridges). Some of this discussion happened immediately after the events described here occurred but, in preparation for this article, I interviewed almost everyone named in this piece. Starting in June of this year, I sent Mr. Patel repeated requests for comment by email and in Twitter direct messages and, thus far, he has remained silent. A good friend of mine instrumental in helping gather information for this piece also went to Patel for comment and was rebuffed. We tried to afford Patel the opportunity to tell his side of the story but, thus far, he has refused to engage so this article is from the point of view of Patel’s victims as he has chosen to hide from the allegations rather than facing them like an adult.
This is a long article and each incident detailed herein is worse than the one before it. If you’re hearing this piece via a screen reader, you can navigate from one section to the next by heading as each of the incidents discussed in it follows a heading level 2.
My First Encounter With Pratik Patel
I first met Pratik Patel when I did a contract he managed for the City University of New York (CUNY). I was hired on to work on a software design and development project intended to make math more accessible to screen reader users. This was years before Sina Bahram and the Design Science guys did their terrific MathPlayer based work. On this project, I was promised a pile of resources essential to achieving our goals which never materialized, making it impossible for the effort to reach a successful outcome.
Patel was pretty young when this project started and I put his sloppiness into the category of a learning experience for both of us and left it at that.
Pratik Patel’s Productive Years
Mr. Patel rose to national prominence in accessibility during the years he worked for American Counsel of the Blind (ACB). There, he was responsible for the excellent job ACB did with gathering and submitting public comments during the rule making process on the 21st Century Video and Communication Accessibility Act (CVAA), the Section 508 Refresh and on the ADA Restoration Act. Pratik demonstrated a deep knowledge of policy issues and, in more than 500 pages of documentation he submitted to the various federal agencies involved, he was clear, concise and, in my opinion, highly effective.
Therefore, when Patel decided to launch his own business, I made the incorrect assumption that he had matured and refined his skills in the years after he left his position at CUNY. When Patel called me to ask for my help building EZ Fire, I jumped in with enthusiasm.
Egg On My Face
Shortly after Patel launched EZ Fire, he sent me an email containing his plans for the company. This message promised to “donate $100,000 per year to NVAccess Foundation,” “hire 2 full time programmers to work on NVDA related projects” and “expand into markets previously untapped by the accessibility business.” That was roughly four years ago and, to date, none of these promises amounted to more than a daydream.
I bought Patel’s story hook, line and sinker and, when he asked me to help him recruit top talent from my contact list, I did so vigorously. I tried to convince a number of top blind technology professionals to join EZ Fire and a couple to whom I talked accepted jobs offered by Patel. Then, almost immediately they learned that the company had no money and no clients to bill.
In the summer of 2013, Pratik Patel offered high paying jobs to three top blind accessibility specialists: Mia Lipner, now one of the highest ranking blind women in corporate accessibility; Chris Meredith, a blind guy with a ton of experience as a quality assurance engineer and a person whom I had hired twice as a contractor at Freedom Scientific and Eric Bridges, a top person at ACB who knew Pratik Patel as a colleague at the counsel. All three of these very talented individuals resigned secure positions to go to work for EZ Fire.
then the first EZ Fire disaster I’d learn about came to my attention. Of the three people Patel had hired, only Chris Meredith actually started his new job. Lipner and Bridges had resigned their previous positions and never worked a single day for Patel’s company. In Lipner’s case, her employer had already hired a replacement and she found herself scrambling to secure another position in a frenzy of anxiety, phone calls, emails and online applications.
What went wrong? Nobody other than Patel knows for sure. He was on vacation when his bank tried to inform him his account had insufficient funds to make payroll. His automated payroll system is designed to not issue paychecks that will bounce and EZ Fire had no line of credit to cover a shortfall.
After his bank found him, Patel sent an email to Meredith telling him he didn’t have a job and that his latest paycheck would be arriving somewhat late. Lipner found out about the problems when Meredith sent out a tweet and she didn’t hear from Patel for some time to come. When the going gets tough; Pratik Patel runs and hides.
Understanding one’s cash flow situation is an essential part of managing a business; Patel didn’t even know that he hadn’t the funds to make payroll, let alone how little money he had in reserves. In some states, hiring a person without having a position for them to fill is a criminal matter and, if Lipner, Meredith and Bridges had elected to take a legal avenue, he could have been on the hook for six months of their salaries and other damages.
I thought this event was important enough to write about on this blog but a mutual friend of Patel’s and mine convinced me to keep the story quiet and, out of my loyalty to the mutual friend, I joined the conspiracy of silence surrounding Mr. Patel’s misdeeds.
The First Crowdfunding Effort Instigated By Pratik Patel
Amanda Rush is a WordPress accessibility consultant based in Georgia. She has a steady series of clients and she’s highly regarded in the WordPress community. Patel hired her as a subcontractor to do a relatively small ($5000) gig for a charitable effort to which EZ Fire was consulting. Amanda finished the work on time, she made her deliverables, Patel used her work to launch a crowdfunding effort for the charity (an excellent organization that deserves donations who were entirely unaware of Patel’s history) and they raised thousands of dollars. Quite unfortunately, though, Amanda went unpaid even though the charity had compensated Patel for the work.
Amanda’s business is a one person operation and she volunteers on projects related to blindness and technology when time permits. Amanda helps out less fortunate members of her family with their finances to the best of her ability. When the cheque from EZ Fire didn’t materialize, she tried to contact Patel and he refused to respond to her calls or emails. She found herself in limbo and without sufficient funds to pay her mortgage bill. In a real hurry, I helped her toss together a crowdfunding campaign of her own and the WordPress and accessibility communities paid Patel’s debt while, once again, he went into hiding.
as with the disaster Patel had created for Lipner, Meredith and Bridges, both Amanda and I wanted to tell the EZ Fire and Pratik Patel story publicly but, once again, another mutual friend convinced us to write the crowdfunding page with an anonymized villain and Mr. Patel was able to walk away to screw more good people in the future.
As the most critical and boldly honest blogger in this field, I once again participated in a cover up that would allow Patel to get away with screwing a number of others after we had raised the money for Amanda.
The Phantom Investor
If you don’t know or know of Karl Groves, you haven’t been paying attention to the accessibility field over the past few years. Karl works full time for The Paciello Group (TPG) and runs a new business called Tenon. TPG is one of the gold plated accessibility contract service companies with a list of superstars beginning with its founder and cornerstone of modern accessibility Mike Paciello and, along with Karl, people of such integrity and terrific skills as Steve Faulkner and leonie Watson. Tenon has the reputation for being one of the best, if not the best automated accessibility checking software available on the market today.
Karl hopes to find investors in order to finance the growth of this interesting and exciting new company. Karl called me and we discussed an investment but I’m very conservative with my money and never do start-up plays as they are simply too risky for my blood. Karl contacted a mutual friend of ours who, for his own reasons, chose to pass on the opportunity. Then Groves published his Tenon “Executive Summary”
to AngelList, a site where business seeking investors and investors seeking opportunities can find each other.
“Almost immediately after I posted it,” said Groves, “I got a Twitter direct message from Pratik and we followed up with a phone call in which Patel told me that he wanted to invest $300,000 into Tenon.”
Groves, assuming that Patel was telling the truth, started the expensive process of gathering the documentation for due diligence and putting together the contracts necessary to execute such a transaction, a costly set of tasks involving lawyers and a lot of his time. Karl sent the paperwork to Patel and, in a number of months since, has not received a single phone call or email from Patel informing him that he had changed his mind.
Feeling desperate and frustrated after spending the money on the lawyers and a lot of his time that could have been spent talking to people who have real dollars, Euros, Yen, pounds sterling, Rupees, pesos, lira, francs or any other negotiable currency to invest, he decided to call an EZ Fire insider who informed him that Patel was flat broke, that he didn’t have any paying clients and that he was “back in Queens living with his mom.”
I ask you, my loyal readers, what sort of person who has no money, a mountain of debt to employees and subcontractors and a history of leaving projects incomplete calls an individual he knows personally and lies about having a real lot of money to invest in a project? Does Patel also read the luxury real estate section in the Sunday NY Times and make offers on mansions? Is he surfing the web right now looking for a yacht? Does he believe that he’s in the market for a private island and a Lear jet? Or, maybe Patel wants everyone to think he’s some kind of big shot, a delusional behavior for a guy who can’t afford room and board for himself, let alone make investments or big ticket purchases.
We agreed that the years long cover up of Patel’s crimes, misdemeanors and lies had to end and that the public had to be informed of the threat Patel poses to the financial safety of nearly everyone with whom he does business and, this time, nobody has attempted to discourage me from publishing this article.
The most recent Patel initiated disaster is by far the most horrible of the stories in this article. This wasn’t a single event but a crime spree he perpetrated against a lone individual. I would like to tell this story and all of the abject misery it caused his victim but I have no first hand source willing to speak on the record regarding these events and, more importantly, the privacy of the victim is of paramount importance and I don’t want to reveal details this person doesn’t want made public. I’m not protecting Patel; I’m respecting the privacy of the individual victimized by him.
The A11Y 11th Commandment
Years ago, our late president Ronald Reagan would often repeat one of his favorite phrases, “The 11th commandment is, never speak ill of another republican.” This rule seems to also apply to criticizing companies, organizations and individuals in the accessibility business. Whenever I write an article critical of anything ranging from lousy accessibility on mainstream products to criticizing an AT vendor to showing the hypocrisy of organizations like NFB, I get some hate mail saying that I’m making our entire community look bad. This industry seems to live under a mafia like code of silence regarding bad actors. I contend that it’s the actions of the unethical that cast a shadow over our world and not the reporting thereof. If we are unwilling to police ourselves, we will all lose credibility due to the actions of a few bad apples like Patel.
With Patel’s story, I must confess that I allowed my friends to convince me to join the cover up and there are few decisions regarding this blog that I regret more. If Gonz Blinko can’t tell the truth without a filter, he’s not really the Gonz I had hoped him to be. I apologize to everyone else who got burned as, if I had gone public with the story about Mia Lipner, Chris Meredith and Eric Bridges, people may have googled EZ Fire and found the piece before putting themselves and their finances at risk, before some of his clients got burned after paying retainers and receiving nothing in return and maybe the victim in the story I cannot tell would have been more cautious around the man.
As I shared early drafts of this article with my informal editorial team,, they were all horrified. The mutual friend who convinced me to not publish the article about Lipner, Meredith and Bridges said, “show no mercy.” Amanda and the mutual friend who convinced us to not name names in her case said, “Let it all fly.” The rest of the group all told me to hit as hard as I can. Karl Groves wrote to me to make sure I told his story and, like me, he’s out of the old CBGB scene, not a crowd known for controlling our anger well.
Pratik Patel has left a trail of bodies and is a serial liar and con man. Worst of all, I actually think that Patel believes the lies as he’s telling them which makes him all the more dangerous. Do not do business with EZ Fire as when you play with fire around this sleazy liar you will get burned.