GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Employees of a prominent Gainesville commercial real estate firm whose offices were stormed by an armed SWAT team this summer could face felony charges after a criminal investigation said they bilked their former employer out of a cache of confidential documents and deals worth millions.
According to sworn complaints filed late Tuesday and early Wednesday in Alachua County Circuit Court, police detectives accused Colliers International employees Lauren Edwards, 24, Daniel Drotos, 34, and Rory Causseaux, 59, of stealing dozens of trade secrets and proprietary documents and $2 million worth of deals from Bosshardt Realty Services, their former employer.
The trio is charged with felony theft or embezzlement of trade secrets and felony scheming to defraud and obtain property. Michael Ryals, 65, who is listed as executive director on the company’s website, is named as a co-defendant in Edwards’ and Drotos’ complaints.
Edwards did not answer her phone or reply to an email regarding the criminal complaint. A message left with her attorney’s secretary was not returned prior to publication.
Bosshardt Realty and Colliers International, two of the area’s most prominent real estate firms, have been embroiled in a two-year 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.
On June 25, following the highly publicized SWAT raid, 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.
Melissa Redon, a marketing executive at Bosshardt Realty, said the firm uncovered evidence of document theft while preparing to respond to Drotos’ and Ryals’ civil claims that Bosshardt shorted them on commission payments. She said Aaron Bosshardt filed a standard police report and that he received no special treatment from local law enforcement.
“It’s been hard to not try to tell our side of the story, even within our brokerage to kind of protect our agents and protect the integrity of the investigation, we haven’t been able to provide any real details,” Redon said.
It’s unclear how the newly unveiled criminal charges will impact Drotos’ and Ryals’ civil lawsuits.
The new complaint against Edwards alleges that in January 2019, two months before the group ended its employment contract with Bosshardt, Drotos sent a request to Appfiles, Bosshardt’s file service provider, asking for instructions on how to download and transfer corporate documents to an external hard drive. Appfiles rebuffed Drotos’ inquiry and redirected him to Bosshardt.
According to detectives, Drotos never received permission from Bosshardt to copy or access the files. One month later, in response to an email from Edwards, investigators say Drotos sent Edwards a list of coveted documents and directed her to download them. Authorities say Edwards later transferred approximately 160 internal files from Bosshardt’s file server to her private Gmail account.
Christian Oldenburg, Colliers’ executive managing director, also instructed Edwards to email the documents to him so he could disseminate them to the rest of the group, the court records said. Oldenburg has not been named as a defendant in any of the open cases. He did not respond to phone calls Wednesday regarding the criminal complaint.
In October 2020, detectives obtained a search warrant for Edwards’ email records and found that she had later forwarded those same files to Drotos, Ryals and other members of the Drotos-Ryals Group at Colliers International.
Among the documents discovered during the search were contracts, commission sheets, financial records, legal information, listings and detailed lists of sellers and prospective buyers.
Investigators said the documents would have provided Drotos and Ryals with an unfair business advantage.
Attorney Ron Kozlowski, who represents Drotos and Ryals, said he has faith in the investigative process but disputes the notion that his clients stole trade secrets.
“This is commercial real estate,” Kozlowski said. “In my experience, I don’t even know what a trade secret is in terms of commercial real estate under the facts that we have here. There were no trade secrets that Mr. Ryals and Mr. Drotos could’ve taken with them from Bosshardt.”
Bosshardt says he’s remained quiet until now about the situation involving his former employees to protect the investigative process.
“We have been patiently awaiting the truth to come out,” Aaron Bosshardt said. “We are grateful for the time and energy this case has been given. None of this has been easy, but we are hopeful that the conclusion is near and justice will be served.”
No court dates have yet been set for the cases, which Gainesville police referred to the State Attorney’s Office, who will next decide whether to prosecute them.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.