ST. LOUIS — The office of the Missouri attorney general has decided not to pursue action against the man behind St. Louis’ largest Kickstarter campaign on record.
Thousands of backers wanted a magnet-based "fort" during the pandemic. Nearly two years later, some of those “Get the Fort” customers are still waiting for their items.
St. Louis’ Conor Lewis is the founder of the business. The fort was supposed to be a toy that would give parents a break during the pandemic. It’s a magnetic foam system made to save the couch and parents’ sanity. The Kickstarter campaign called it "Kid magic." Though many parents, like Elizabeth Gentile, say it feels more like a trick.
“Of course, it was a new business, so I was expecting to have to be patient with them,” said Gentile.
Gentile was one of the 9,000-plus backers of the Kickstarter and saw the toy as an investment for her son, who has a learning difference.
“At that time, I had a 4-year-old that loved to climb and love to build forts. So instead of taking my chairs and my covers and my cushions, why not buy something, you know, 12 foam blocks that, you know, can do the same thing for him?” said Gentile.
She even paid more money to get her fort delivered sooner.
“He said if we pay the extra $99, we could have it before Christmas of 2021,” said Gentile. “Well, I did pay the extra $99, but I did not receive mine before Christmas. Then, after unboxing it, I noticed that the magnets did not work."
She's now out more than $450. Magnets were the key selling point and the glue that made this particular fort special.
Conor Lewis found himself in trouble, which is perhaps why he went on ABC's Shark Tank to ask for an investment. His Kickstarter sold too many forts under value, meaning Lewis was in the red.
“And I've found myself, like, staring at the numbers and being like, 'Oh, this is bad,'” said Lewis.
“I'm assuming you've burnt a lot of cash,” said the Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec.
“I'm like, 'Yeah, all. I'm basically all, all of it,'” said Lewis.
“You're selling yourself out of business,” said Herjavec.
From failing to provide replacement parts, to issuing refunds, to overall customer service, the BBB even sent out a warning advising people to avoid doing business with “Get the Fort.”
“Right now 'Get the Fort' does have an F rating with the Better Business Bureau and that's because of the volume of the complaints that we've received,” said Sarah Wentzel, BBB spokesperson.
Customers told the BBB either they did not receive their forts or that the forts they received were not what they believed was promised. The BBB received complaints from 24 states. The BBB also warned people about crowdfunding.
“When consumers give to crowdfunding campaigns, they need to understand and scrutinize everything that’s involved with their donation,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO. “From the product’s concept to the background of the creator — to product delivery, it’s important to recognize that you have little control over how problems are managed.”
5 On Your Side reached out to the Missouri Attorney General’s office about Conor Lewis and his company. We received the following statement:
“Our office opened an investigation concerning the business practices of Conor Lewis and his company, Get the Fort. We determined that Mr. Lewis made a good faith effort to supply the products that he did have to consumers and did provide refunds when he had money available. Lewis had initially offered prices to Kickstarter backers that turned out to be too low for him to make a profit or break even and put him in a financial hole, especially when materials and shipping cost rose during COVID. He did attempt to do more but the business failed. Based on information provided by Mr. Lewis and his attorney, our office decided not to pursue any action against Mr. Lewis. Consumers have the right to contact a private attorney for further legal advice if they want to pursue.”
Right now, the foam blocks are useless to Gentile's son. She just wants the situation to be made right. It's not just about losing $450, it's about how $3 million that seems to have gone unaccounted for.
“It's just going to take time and I need to be patient. Well, in turn, he ghosted us, he ghosted me, ghosted many women. And here we are two years later. Wow. With a lot of foam sitting in our house.” said Gentile.
5 On Your Side reporter Michelle Li did reach out to Conor Lewis and went to the address listed on his business. Someone at the door told her that Mr. Lewis would reach out when he's ready.