Prosecutors drop criminal charges against prominent real estate agents; related civil lawsuits settled
The State Attorney's office has dropped its criminal investigation of employees of a prominent commercial real estate firm whose offices were stormed by an armed SWAT team last year.
Around the same time prosecutors abandoned their criminal case, on Nov. 1, at least three related civil lawsuits and countersuits in state and federal courts were also voluntarily dismissed – signaling a broad, behind-the-scenes settlement between employees of Colliers International and their former employer, Bosshardt Realty Services.
Prosecutors and company officials declined to discuss in detail the terms of any such settlement. The state attorney, Brian Kramer, said in a statement that his office had “worked with the named victims and the defendants, as well as other interested parties, to reach a fair and just resolution,” and said everyone involved was satisfied.
Sworn complaints filed in Alachua County Circuit Court after last year's SWAT raid accused Colliers employees Michael Steven Ryals, 66, of Gainesville; Daniel James Drotos, 35, of Gainesville; Lauren Elizabeth Edwards, 25, of Gainesville; Rory Pierce Causseaux, 60, of Gainesville; and Andrew Christian Oldenburg, 41, of Jacksonville, of stealing dozens of trade secrets and proprietary documents and $2 million worth of deals from Bosshardt.
Ryals and Drotos had been formally charged in February with racketeering, scheming to defraud, theft of trade secrets and illegally taking intellectual property.
Bosshardt and Colliers International, two of the area’s most prominent real estate firms, had been embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute over allegations that Aaron Bosshardt, the head of Bosshardt Realty, withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid commissions owed to Drotos and Ryals.
After the highly publicized SWAT raid in June 2021, Drotos and Ryals filed a second lawsuit alleging that Bosshardt abused the legal process by providing false and defamatory information to law enforcement that interfered with existing litigation and inflicted emotional distress.
An arbitrator ordered Bosshardt Realty this summer to pay Drotos and Ryals $1.48 million in unpaid commissions from when the two had worked at Bosshardt. Drotos and Ryals had said they were owed more.
The lawyer for Drotos and Ryals, Ron Kozlowski of Gainesville, said he was not able to discuss the reasons the State Attorney’s Office dropped the criminal case.
The SWAT raid of the Colliers office was a highly publicized spectacle. A full, tactical team armed with assault rifles zip-tied the wrists of three people outside the building and detained them while police searched inside – over what was generally considered a business dispute between a boss and former employees.
After the raid caused an outcry in the community, the Gainesville Police Department conducted an internal investigation in November 2021 and concluded that the SWAT team acted according to the agency’s own rules and procedures.
Still, one of the real estate agents in the building who was never accused of a crime, Jason Hurst, sued the city, police department and individual officers in federal court in July. He alleged that his civil rights were violated.
“This massive show of force had been inexplicably and unreasonably deployed to serve a search warrant for electronic records in an investigation into allegations of trade secret theft made by a competitor,” Hurst’s lawsuit said. It called the raid “an unreasonable, unjustified, unnecessary and wildly disproportionate use of force applied in an arbitrary and capricious way.”
The federal lawsuit was set for a jury trial in October 2023, but when the criminal charges were dropped against Drotos and Ryals, Hurst abandoned the civil case.
Aside from the criminal charges and civil lawsuits, Drotos and Ryals were also at the center of a controversial school board land deal. The two were accused of working both sides of a deal to increase the sale price of a property the school district bought, despite some school board officials believing the agents represented Alachua County Public Schools. The school district bought the property in 2020 for twice as much money as the land sold in late 2018.
This story was produced by WUFT, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com