Mike Kennedy, creator of the Retro VGS/Coleco Chameleon has finally surfaced and decided to speak out on everything that led to the Coleco Chameleon project being cancelled.
Kennedy went on the AtariAge forum and posted a very long message explaining everything into detail. Kennedy explained that he was approached by Sean” LEE” Robinson who was apparently an “acquaintance” of Clay Cowgill, a fellow engineer who worked on the project. Robinson had left and reentered the project several times over development and during his last stint with the project wanted to remain “behind the curtain” due to a mess he was walking into after John Carlsen left the project. Kennedy claimed to have numerous problems throughout the development with “Lee” after he was instructed by him the day before the Toy Fair to not show the back of the unit no matter what. Even after he was told by attendees of the Toy Fair that it looked like it was just the guts of an SNES Jr, Kennedy never once took a look inside the console to see if these allegations were true.
In short, Kennedy said he has given “Lee” over $10,000 for working on the project and never once was delivered what he was promised. This “Lee” Robinson is also known as a con-man as he was charged with 7 counts of Felon Grand-Theft and spent prison time for doing similar things.
Below is the full statement Mike Kennedy made…
I hate to light this thread up any more but at this time I have made the decision that my reputation is worth protecting and wanted to come in here and break my silence and fill in some holes and answer some questions about the hardware “team” (term used loosely) behind the Coleco Chameleon.
This long winded response will explain:
To understand how this ended, I want to direct your attention back to the early times of this venture, early to middle 2014. At this time, my first choice to design the system, Curt Vendel (who Scott Schreiber helped introduce me to thus ending his minimal involvement in the venture) decided he wouldn’t have the time to devote to this venture and opted out soon and never got started. At this time I researched others that could step in and bring this product to fruition and that lead me to Clay Cowgill. Clay really took this project under his wing from Nov 2014 to January 2015 and helped us (me and Steve Woita) define the hardware and its capabilities – this is when we were considering, at Clay’s recommendation, architecting something in-line with the Beaglebone Black.
It was also at this time, that another person entered into the mix, Sean “LEE” Robinson. Sean was a “acquaintance or colleague” of Clay’s and it just so happened that he had moved from Washington (state) back to Southern California. He had heard that I was working with Clay on this project and offered to help. Since he and Clay were colleagues, and the fact he was local and very close to me, it seemed like a good idea to have them partner up on the project, which they did to some extent. Supposedly, Sean had a working prototype ( that I NEVER saw) playing Neo Geo games in Jan 2015. This prototype was later used again when he rejoined the project explaining how we supposedly had a prototype so fast AFTER Carlsen left. Read further . . . . .
In late January 2015, Clay alerted us that he was contracted by SONY and that he would be leaving the project. At this time, Sean also decided to leave as well. Enter in the John Carlsen/Steve Woita FPGA “era”. Now I am not going to go into this part of the timeline because we know how all this worked out. Fast forward to John Carlsen leaving the failed RETRO VGS project.
At the time of John’s leaving in September 2015, Sean “LEE” Robinson re-entered the picture and reached out to Steve and I. He indicated he wanted to help us get this project back on track, but his condition was that he remained “behind the curtain” (his words) due to the mess he was inheriting from Carlsen. At this time I agreed to that condition and also agreed to let him and Steve work together on this without my interference. While I thought I had a competent hardware “team” working on this, and was being told early on by Sean we had games running on our hardware/software prototype and that our costs had dropped considerably, I felt confident to go ahead and continue building this venture, bringing a “go-to-market” team together and making the decision to launch this under the Coleco brand. Things seemed to be coming together. Chris from Coleco invited us to demonstrate a prototype at Toy Fair. This did pose a challenge to Sean as it expedited the process a bit to try and make the show deadline.
This is where things started to take a big bad turn. In mid-January, I had a lunch meeting with Sean and point blank asked him what he needs from me to spend the next 30 days working on the prototype full-time to get it prepared for the Toy Fair. We agreed on $4,000, which I quickly got to him via a check that he cashed with me at my bank. It was then a day before I was traveling to the show that he came over to my house with the Toy Fair “Prototype”, with his instructions to NOT SHOW the back of the unit no matter what. But without any specific information as to why I shouldn’t show it, other than it used an aftermarket connector that was composite-out and that was used because he didn’t have the HD stable enough to get us through the show. I believed him and went to the show with that unit. My biggest concern at the time was getting this conglomeration through the TSA and on the plane.
During the show we were accused of not having that system even plugged in so I made the decision to take a photo of the back of the unit showing it was clearly plugged in. If that was true about using the composite connector, I really felt people would understand why it was used and decided to show the pics. I didn’t feel we had anything to hide. Then all hell broke loose and it was identified that SNES mini parts or the whole PCB from an SNES mini was inside the console shell. I was left in a terrible spot at this point and I had a decision to make that evening at the hotel. Do I take this thing apart and see what was in it and quit the show or continue on with the show, demoing the games that were going to be on the system, and then address this issue with Sean when we got back from New York. Right or wrong, I continued on with Toy Fair and it continued to impress people and the games were very favorably liked (Thanks Eli! For stepping in with his SNES multicart in place of Sean’s glitching out SD card driven demo cartridge). When I returned back home, I met Sean again and gave him the “prototype” back and he was still swearing that despite the SNES “parts” he used, the games were still running on the SNES FPGA software that he had constructed in a few short months. Again, I believed him and we moved forward. And he told me that during the Toy Fair he was preparing the next “prototype” board so I gave him the clear shells with explicit instructions from me to show “our” PCB inside the shell. This was going to be used to show the “real” prototype.
Then in a move to extract more money from me he indicated that for $3,000 paid now (2/29/16), and $3,000 paid in 60 days he could wrap this up and have a production ready prototype completed. So, again, I wrote him out a check he promptly cashed with me at my bank. Soon after this he emailed me the images of the clear unit with the PC DVR capture card in it. But, when he first emailed me the images, he indicated this was our prototype 100%. I made a comment that it looked great (in the photos) and he responded by saying something like “this is what we can do when given the proper time.” Keep in mind, these pictures were to combat the criticism of the “fake” Toy Fair prototype and were given to me by him to post on Facebook to show people the real “prototype”. Sean even joked about how people online were trying to identify the board in our shell, laughing and telling me they won’t find it because it’s our original work. He even made these comments through my car Blue Tooth speaker with my wife in the car and she heard everything. Again, I believed him.
Let’s discuss the Kickstarter for a moment. So, believing I was going to have a working prototype for Toy Fair, I told Sean and Steve I was going to move forward with the Kickstarter campaign and use Toy Fair as a launching point for the campaign. A date was set. Now to Sean’s credit, he played that this was not a good idea and didn’t agree with me scheduling the Kickstarter to begin during the campaign was a good idea. But, at this point, I thought I had a real prototype playing games and was assured by Sean many times that our costs were now hovering around $100, so figured, let’s not wait any longer. After it was learned that we essentially had a SNES duck taped in my console shell I decided to delay the Kickstarter because it was always my intention to show off the prototype completely in the campaign video, open it up and show it running and playing games from at least two different systems. Then once I saw the clear unit was also a “fake” I made the decision to withdraw from a Kickstarter campaign altogether and reevaluate this venture.
Back to the clear shell prototype. Since this all fell apart I have been trying to get Sean to explain to me why he would point blank lie to my face about that being “our board” and passing that two-bit PC board off as our prototype and he can’t give me an explanation that makes any sense, in fact I get no explanation other than that there was more going on in there than people can see. He mentioned we had chips located underneath the board even and assured me that the cartridge was also plugged into our cartridge connector. Something was just not adding up to me and I continued to lose sleep at night wondering how this all could have happened. First, he never showed me anything in person, that he was working on. I never went to his house, nor was ever given an address where he lives or works. He subscribes to my magazine so I looked at the address the magazine is sent to – a UPS store PO Box. I have paid this guy $7,000 and have nothing to show for it. Oh, I also bought two FPGA cores from a “friend” of his (whom I never met in person) whose wife was having medical issues and needed to sell some things and just so happened his friend had made an Intellivision and Amiga FPGA core. Sean told me his friend would sell them to me for $2,500 which I, again agreed to, and wrote Sean out another check which he promptly cashed at my bank and was going to give the cash to his “friend”. Did I ever get any software cores? NOPE! So, in total, with a couple other smaller checks I wrote to him, paid him nearly $10K in January and February 2016. Nothing to show for it except two fake prototypes and NO FPGA CORES! And, he swindled out my Crystal Castles Commodore 64 prototype cartridge as part of a payment as well!!!!!!!
So, trying to make more sense of all this, I started Googling Sean and this is where things get super crazy. I will just post the links that are online for all to see and you can all take it from there. There is even more stuff you can uncover if you want to all look:
In addition, I have confirmed with the Riverside County (CA) Assistant DA, Sean was charged a few years ago for 7 counts of Felony Grand-Theft and served part of a one-year sentence in jail and then got out on probation which he evidently complied with and then he made a plea to have the prior conviction AND his admittance of guilt overturned. A loophole that the DA mentioned drives prosecutors crazy.
At this point I can only hope to recover any of my money paid to him, and can no longer live by my word to keep him “behind the curtain” while his deceit led to my defamation of character and demise of the company and opportunity and also I feel I was intentionally setup to take a fall. Because why else would he give me the clear shell “prototype” photos to hang myself? Seems strange as we both knew these photos would be scrutinized like crazy based on the last “fake” SNES prototype he gave me.
I also hope that you will also wonder why I would go to all this trouble surrounding this venture with guys like Ben Herman (he was a Rockstar at Toy Fair, and had tons of legit retailer interest in this thing) and Phil Adam, Paul Wylie and eventually Steven Rosenbaum. Why would I go out and bring Coleco on board as a licensing partner? All done and then just try and pass off fake prototypes? This is just something that I would not intentionally or knowingly do. I have way more integrity and respect for this hobby to pull that shit. I did remain silent the past few weeks though while I put the pieces of this train wreck together and worked with my attorney to define my moves. And I apologize for the delay. Timed with the release of this statement here on AtariAge I have also emailed Sean a demand letter asking him to make arrangements to pay me back the money he scammed from me as well as a heads up I am going public with his participation in this deceit. But at the same time, I wonder who he might have to take advantage of to get the money to pay me back. That is the shitty part. And I am still working with my attorney and local authorities to find out what my options are.
I want to apologize to all of you for the past few months. The John Carlsen era was an honest to goodness list of I mistakes. But there was never any intention to deceive or pull the wool over any of your eyes. These past few months with these fake prototypes was inexcusable and I hope you can all understand a bit more about how this all happened and why I have remained silent the past few weeks. It is not in my nature to trick people into anything. My end game has always been to give back to this hobby that I love and respect and to make and do things that people will enjoy. I’ve never taken one penny from anyone that wasn’t genuinely earned!
You will all be glad to hear that I am officially tabling the console venture for good. I have negotiated with Albert (AtariAge) to take over the Jaguar tooling so we can all be assured it’s in good hands and won’t get destroyed or lost to time. And I am sure Albert will do some very cool things with the console and cartridge shells.
I want to ask you all for some level of forgiveness and I hope you all understand that I would have never gone to Kickstarter with a blatant rip-off of a prototype. That was never my intention. And please, don’t let this mess carry over to the magazine. I have a great team of people working on it. We are pouring a lot of heart and soul and sweat equity into keeping the magazine going and it’s only getting better.
And, I want to thank those on AtariAge (and other public forums) for opening my eyes to the craziness of all this happening right under my eyes. The fact that Sean indicated he wrote this SNES FPGA software in such a short time was questioned here and that opened my eyes. Of course, the uncovering of the fake prototypes has opened my eyes. You guys really go above and beyond to protect the hobby and it wasn’t until I have had the time to reflect back on this fiasco that I saw how you all came together and your alerts spread like wildfire across the internet. Again it was never the intention of myself or those legitimate guys on my team to deceive or potentially defraud anyone. In the end, I am the only one that has lost anything, money, potential opportunity and my reputation in this hobby.