Core sued by former broker

May.May 08, 2008 02:35 PM

A former Core Group Marketing agent is suing the company and its key players for allegedly cheating him out of more than $51 million in commissions.

Broker Joseph Bongiovanni filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court March 7 against Core Group Marketing; Co-founder and CEO Shaun Osher; Co-founder Jack Cayre; Principal Joseph Cayre (owner of Midtown Equities); founding member Steven Ganz; and broker Jon Isaacs. Bongiovanni alleges that the defendants stole his clients and refuse to give him commissions on five development deals, including one for $200 million, and three residential sales.

In an eight-count complaint, Bongiovanni claimed that when he left the Corcoran Group for Core in August 2006, he and Osher reached a verbal agreement that Bongiovanni “had exclusive rights” to any client that he brought with him to Core. He claims that meant “no sales agent at the firm maintained a right to show properties to said clients other than the plaintiff.”

Bongiovanni also claimed that Osher verbally agreed that “any client which plaintiff procured either prior or subsequent [to] his joining the defendant firm was his and his only with respect to the ability to earn commissions.”

Osher said the claims are baseless.

He said in a statement: “We firmly believe that Joseph Bongiovanni’s allegations against Core Group Marketing are without merit. We are saddened that Mr. Bongiovanni has chosen to take the actions he has. We are confident that our reputation among our clients and peers alike will not waver as we move through the litigation process as a result of Mr. Bongiovanni’s unfounded claims.”

Core, which has a staff of 42 people, is marketing 11 new developments, including William Beaver House, Jasper and 520 West Chelsea. 

Bongiovanni left Core around this past Christmas after a year-and-a-half at the firm, and returned to the Corcoran Group. He has done several deals in the Onyx Chelsea at 261 West 28th Street, a project that he first marketed while at Core. 

The Department of State, which licenses real estate agents, received a complaint about Bongiovanni on January 20, according to a spokesperson, who would not elaborate. The complaint is under investigation.

Another complaint was filed with the department against the defendants in Bongiovanni’s lawsuit on March 12, another spokesperson said. That complaint over commissions was dismissed, she said, because it will be handled in court. 

Bongiovanni, who has been an agent since January 2003, did not comment on the lawsuit. 

Lisa Breier Urban, managing partner and co-founder of Breier Deutschmeister Urban & Fromme P.C., a Manhattan-based real estate law firm, said the lawsuit “seems pretty tenuous” and that compensation cases like Bongiovanni’s are tough to win because they often rely on agreements that are only verbal, and aren’t in writing.

In order to win the case, Urban said, the plaintiff “needs to show that he would have received an economic advantage — commission — but for the actions of the defendants and that these actions were motivated by malice or effected by unlawful means. He also will have to show that he suffered special damages — measurable damages actually sustained — which are required for establishing a cause of action for a tort.

“Further, for him to show loss of a commission, he will have to show that the claim for the commissions is not speculative — i.e. that the deals were real and closed.” 

Claims for commissions owed are nothing new.

“It’s not highly unusual that an agent who has left a firm might have been disgruntled and may choose to pursue legal action for commissions they perceive to be owed,” said Pamela Liebman, president and CEO of Corcoran, whose company has no involvement in the lawsuit. 

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