Real estate brokers trade accusations, lawsuits

Bosshardt Realty sign
Bosshardt Realty is locked in a legal battle with several former agents. (Photo by Seth Johnson)
Photo by Seth Johnson

A former Bosshardt Realty Services employee is alleging in a recent lawsuit that owner Aaron Bosshardt and his associates tried to have him murdered through a police raid—an allegation that a Bosshardt spokesperson said is “absurd.”

In another recent lawsuit, Colliers International real estate agents have filed a lawsuit against the city of Gainesville and its police department alleging their constitutional rights were violated during the same raid on June 2 of last year, when the Gainesville Police Department’s SWAT team swept into Colliers International’s downtown real estate office.

During the raid, a dozen fully armed SWAT team members converged on the office, seeking documents in a case in which former Bosshardt employees Daniel Drotos and Michael Ryals were accused of stealing trade secrets from the company.

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The August suit against Bosshardt—previously unreported—is the latest of many twists and turns in the ongoing legal battle pitting local real estate power brokers against each other, with multiple pending civil and criminal cases.

Drotos and Ryals operated a commercial real estate division at Bosshardt Realty Services until April 2019, when they moved to Colliers International.  Other Bosshardt agents went with them.

Bosshardt Realty Services alleges in recent lawsuits that the two men conspired to steal confidential client and business information from the company, and transferred the digital files over to Colliers shortly before they started working there.

In February, State Attorney Brian Kramer filed felony charges in circuit court against Drotos and Ryals. The charges against both men include: racketeering, scheme to defraud/organized fraud and theft of trade secrets. Drotos faces an additional charge of offense against intellectual property.

In the most recent lawsuit, filed in Alachua Circuit Court on Aug. 11, former Bosshardt Realty Services employee Rory Causseaux, who is now an associate manager at Colliers North Florida, sued Aaron Bosshardt, Kimberly Bosshardt, Autumn Doughton and Bosshardt Realty Services.

The complaint asks a judge to award damages the “court deems appropriate” and requests a jury trial.

“This shocking and nearly unbelievable – but completely true – lawsuit involves a carefully planned and orchestrated conspiracy between a group of local real estate professionals and their attorney to spitefully wipe a new competitor off the business map,” Causseaux’s suit says.

Rory Causseaux

Causseaux’s suit adds that Aaron Bosshardt and his employees hoped to “possibly seriously injure or even kill their former employees-now-competitors,” including Causseaux and other innocent bystanders through a “risky SWAT raid.”

“You could write a book about this case,” the suit says.

Later on, the lawsuit accuses Bosshardt and his employees of a “conspiracy to murder the plaintiff and his business partners by SWAT.”

“But the plaintiff wasn’t killed or injured, was able to get back on his feet after the office was cleared out of its electronics, and then defendants lost their civil lawsuit anyway and have been ordered to pay over a million dollars in damages and attorneys’ fees,” the suit says.

This refers to a court ruling in June, when arbitrator Melvia B. Green ordered Bosshardt Realty Services to pay about $1.4 million in unpaid commissions and attorneys fees to Drotos and Ryals.

Bosshardt Realty Services marketing director Melissa Redon said the lawsuit alleging attempted murder is ridiculous.

“It is my opinion that this lawsuit is just the latest in a string of frivolous lawsuits meant to distract from the criminal charges Drotos and Ryals are facing, while providing a vessel for their team to release their false narrative,” she said in a prepared statement. “This lawsuit is a disgraceful abuse of the court system.”

On Tuesday, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss Causseaux’s complaint, calling it “a vaguely pled shotgun pleading.” 

The most recent lawsuits allege that Aaron Bosshardt lied to help create the basis for the raid and even helped police write a search warrant. The Causseaux lawsuit says the defendants used their “reputations as long-standing business people in the area and the professional reputations of two attorneys working with them.” 

According to the complaint, “The relationship between the conspirators and the officers working on the falsely-procured criminal case grew so intimate that law enforcement personnel actually allowed the defendants’ attorney to have and edit the draft search warrant to be presented to a judge that would later be used to substantiate a reckless and dangerous SWAT raid.”

The Causseaux lawsuit also accuses Bosshardt Realty Services of paying thousands of dollars in police expenses to “keep the investigation moving.”

“They paid GPD’s bill,” said Jeff Childers, the attorney who filed the case on behalf of Causseaux.

But Redon said in her statement that Bosshardt’s attorneys did not edit the draft search warrant and the company did not give any money to the police or any third party to help with the police investigation.

Redon acknowledged that Bosshardt Realty did offer to help pay the police investigative costs, if the bill to retrieve the electronic documents was too expensive, but said in the end that never happened.

Redon also said Bosshardt did not file a false police report and did not lie to the police. 

The state attorney subpoenaed appFiles, a brokerage file management and storage company, for records taken from Bosshardt Realty by Drotos, Ryals, Causseaux and other former employees. The subpoena states that bills incurred in the production of any digital documents should be directed to the Bosshardt Realty Services.

Autumn Doughton, the relocation director for Bosshardt Realty Services, wrote in a Dec. 9, 2020, email to Gainesville police and the prosecutor that “we would like to pursue privately paying to have the subpoena in our case fulfilled.”

The Aug. 11 lawsuit claims Bosshardt told police that Drotos and Ryals had stolen confidential trade secrets that included, among other things, secret maps, confidential aerial photos, contracts, financial information, customers lists, appraisals, invoices and copyrighted forms.

In the lawsuit filed against the GPD in United States District Court on July 19, people who were in the Colliers International office during the June raid last year are suing the city of Gainesville and officers involved in the raid for punitive financial damages.

Colliers International commercial real estate brokers Jason Hurst and Bennett Harrell and intern Nicola Moreland were named plaintiffs in the civil rights case.

“The SWAT raid was an unreasonable, unjustified, unnecessary, and wildly disproportionate use of force applied in an arbitrary and capricious way,” the lawsuit says. 

In the suit, Hurst said after getting to work around 9:15 a.m. he greeted Moreland and then began his normal morning routine, preparing for the day’s work.

“What neither Hurst nor Moreland knew was that, concealed outside their office, a heavily armed unit of 14 to 20 officers from the Gainesville Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics Team was preparing to occupy the office building,” the suit says. “They also didn’t know that the SWAT team had covertly surveilled both Hurst and Moreland as they arrived for work that morning.”

It adds that SWAT’s presence at the Colliers International office that morning “had nothing to do with Hurst or Moreland.”

“Neither Hurst nor Moreland were suspected of any criminal activity. Nor were they under any investigation of any type. Nor were they believed to (nor did they) have any role in the criminal complaint or in the civil litigation,” the suit says.

Officers “marched the confused employees out of the office at gunpoint,” the suit says.

“The employees’ hands were zip tied behind their backs,” the suit says. “The employees were lined up against a wall facing away from the officers. The employees were then held in custody against their will for nearly two hours. Officers seized their personal property, including their cell phones, and even Hurst’s Apple watch. The personal property of Hurst and Moreland was not returned for months, despite numerous requests. It took a lawsuit to get their property back.”

Redon said in her statement that Bosshardt had no control over how police conducted the SWAT-team raid.

“Aaron had no control or knowledge as to when or how the GPD searched Colliers,” she said. “Neither Aaron Bosshardt nor Bosshardt Realty Services had or have any influence over GPD and their SWAT team.”

She added that “company policies matter, Florida Statutes matter, the law matters and most importantly, the truth matters.”

“The truth is that Aaron Bosshardt uncovered deeply disturbing behavior that not only violated company policies, but also violated Florida statutes and the law,” she said in her prepared statement. “Aaron Bosshardt embodies Bosshardt Realty’s core values of excellence, integrity, and community, and felt a responsibility to his community and profession to report what he believed to be unethical and unlawful behavior by Drotos and Ryals.” 

She added that there is no truth to the “wild accusations” against Bosshardt, nor is there any evidence to support them. She pointed instead to the “multiple felony charges outlining the dishonest actions of Drotos and Ryals.”

But Childers, Causseaux’s attorney, pointed to the arbitrator’s recent decision in the civil dispute over commissions as evidence that Drotos and Ryals did nothing wrong.

The arbitrator, Green, a retired appeals court judge, ruled in June that Bosshardt’s claim that Ryals and Drotos took confidential files was “unsubstantiated.” She also found the two men did not secretly compete with their employer by trying to divert a contract from Bosshardt to Colliers.

Bosshardt has paid out the arbitration award to Drotos and Ryals after Circuit Judge Donna M. Keim on Aug. 16 rejected Bosshardt’s motion to vacate or modify the award and upheld the arbitrator’s decision.

In addition to state charges against Drotos and Ryals, the two are also being investigated by federal law enforcement after some Alachua County public school officials accused them of inflating the price of land for a school to boost their commissions when they worked as the district’s real estate agents. 

Drotos and Ryals have not been charged in that case and deny the accusations.

The two also have a pending slander lawsuit against Bosshardt, alleging that he made false statements to the police that resulted in their criminal charges. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that defendants in the Causseaux suit filed a motion to dismiss this week.

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This could be a TV show.