Prosecutors accuse prominent real estate brokers of racketeering and theft of trade secrets

State prosecutors on Tuesday formally charged two prominent real estate brokers with criminal charges of racketeering, fraud and theft of trade secrets as part of a lengthy investigation into a business dispute with their former employer.

The men, Daniel James Drotos, 34, and Michael Steven Ryals, 65, were the same brokers who came under scrutiny last year over a controversial multimillion-dollar land deal for the Alachua County School Board.

The district bought the property in 2020 for twice as much money as the land sold at the end of 2018. A two-month investigation into the deal found brokers had worked to raise the selling price of the property despite the fact that some school board officials believed the officers. represented the board.

The men said they had done nothing wrong, that they were brokers of transactions, meaning they had no fiduciary duty to either buyer or seller.

The criminal charges date back to the same period when Drotos and Ryals quit working for Bosshardt Realty Services LLC to set up a Gainesville branch of Colliers International Group Inc. They originally agreed to represent the school district while working for Bosshardt, but the land deal was done after they moved to Colliers.

Prosecutors on Tuesday formally charged the men with stealing confidential information from Bosshardt worth more than $50,000 and using it to conduct their real estate business. The state’s attorney’s office filed its indictment in Alachua County Circuit Court Tuesday evening. The criminal charges did not mention any specific land transactions, including work for the school board.

Drotos and Ryals dispute the charges, said their attorney, Ron Kozlowski.

“There is nothing in the charging document that explains the basis of the charges,” Kozlowksi said in an interview. “There are no trade secrets, no trade secrets have been stolen, and Drotos and Ryals have done nothing illegal.”

Kozlowski said Aaron Bosshardt responded to a civil lawsuit filed earlier by Drotos and Ryals by providing what he said was false information to Gainesville police. Bosshart disputed this.

The new criminal charges came more than six months after a raid by SWAT police – which included officers armed with assault rifles – on the property offices of Colliers International.

In the land deal, interviews, emails and documents showed brokers worked to raise the sale price. A message between the two describes efforts to “drive the # (number) up”, increasing the cost to county taxpayers by millions of dollars – and increasing the total commission payments they collected on the deal.

These efforts took place a day before the officers officially signed an agreement to work on behalf of the school board.

Agents began working on the land deal in 2018, when they helped longtime friend and developer Peter Trematerra buy a $1.85 million property west of Gainesville. Prior to the property’s purchase, national homebuilder DR Horton sought to develop the land into a residential neighborhood for $4 million, which would require county planning board approvals and more, which would be more expensive and take longer.

The school district purchased the land for $3.68 million.

After the raid, prosecutors also filed sworn charges in the case against three other Colliers International employees, Andrew Christian Oldenburg, 41, Lauren Edwards, 24, and Rory Causseaux, 60. They were not formally charged on Tuesday.

Drotos and Ryals are separately engaged in civil lawsuits with Aaron Bosshardt and Bosshardt Realty Services. Officers allege Bosshardt provided Gainesville police with false and defamatory information in a case that seeks to test the limits of First Amendment protected speech in Alachua County Circuit Court.

Bosshardt said he gave police factual information that a crime had been committed.

Colliers’ agents also allege that Bosshardt Realty Services deprived them of commission payments after they left the company.

It’s unclear how the newly uncovered criminal charges will impact the parties’ dueling civil lawsuits.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication. The journalist can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]

Kristan F. Talley