Top Compass luxury agent accuses ex-assistant of stealing trade secrets

Hilton & Hyland also named in the lawsuit

TRD New York /
Apr.April 09, 2020 12:45 PM
Cindy Ambuehl (Credit: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images, and Hilton & Hyland)

Cindy Ambuehl (Credit: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images, and Hilton & Hyland)

Compass agent Cindy Ambuehl has filed suit against her ex-assistant, alleging that Christina Collins spent years pilfering her client information in order to make it to the big leagues of Los Angeles luxury real estate.

In an explosive lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Ambuehl accused Collins and co-defendant Hilton & Hyland of violating state trade secrets law. Ambuehl, an actress turned real estate agent, requested compensatory and punitive damages, including commission money from deals Collins made that allegedly used Ambuehl’s proprietary information.

Collins, an agent with Hilton & Hyland, has fought fire with fire.

“Cindy’s allegations (now nearly 3 years old) are not only frivolous but have been debunked repeatedly and Cindy knows that,” Collins wrote in an email to The Real Deal.

Collins said she “intends to countersue Cindy if she continues what is essentially harassment at this point,” and added Hilton & Hyland, “have absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with what alleged issues Cindy has with me. The fact that she would drag their name into this in an effort to hurt me is unfortunate but not surprising anymore.”

Hilton & Hyland agreed that they are a bystander in the Ambuehl-Collins feud.

“Hilton & Hyland has no knowledge or information regarding the complaint and the issues referenced,” emailed Billy Jack Carter, general manager of the brokerage. “We are aware that more than a year ago, an attorney contacted Ms. Collins with the same allegations, and she, through her counsel, summarily rejected each of the contentions that Cindy Ambuehl is making.”

Ambuehl declined comment through her lawyer, Beverly Hills-based attorney Neville Johnson.

Before she joined Compass in March 2019, Ambuehl was an agent at The Agency. She hired Collins as her personal assistant in 2014.

Collins signed a contract in which she pledged to share and make use of information held by Ambuehl including descriptions of clients, lists of buyers for hard to sell properties, and marketing strategies, according to a lawsuit exhibit.

By 2016 Collins had obtained a California real estate license and “knew that plaintiff’s business was lucrative and she realized that the proprietary information, i.e. the specific contracts and wish lists plaintiff cultivated over the years, had tremendous value,” the lawsuit reads. So Collins “hatched a scheme” to use Ambuehl’s personal information, per the complaint.

Collins became an Agency real estate agent in 2017, but left the brokerage four months later. According to the lawsuit, the Beverly Hills-headquartered firm fired Collins “after several of plaintiffs’ clients complained that Collins continued to contact them behind Cindy’s back.”

Per the complaint, Collins then jumped to now-shuttered brokerage Mercer Vine. It was there that witnesses said she routinely logged onto The Agency’s website to view her former employer’s private pocket listings, the complaint alleges.

Collins’ LinkedIn page makes no mention of her time at Mercer Vine, which shuttered in 2018 after it became entangled in a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit against its main backer, convicted Ponzi schemer Robert Shapiro. Collins’ LinkedIn indicates that she joined competing Beverly Hills boutique Hilton & Hyland in January 2018 right after leaving The Agency.

Ambeuhl placed 121st on RealTrends’ list of the top 1,000 real estate agents in the U.S., with $110 million in sales volume in 2019.

According to the lawsuit, Collins unlawfully used Ambeuhl’s connections to cut real estate deals while at Hilton & Hyland, including high-end Brentwood properties such as a mansion on Bristol Avenue for $7.7 million.

Collins is adamant she has done nothing of the sort.

“Unfortunately, in my view, these allegations are the result of Cindy’s anger and resentment stemming from my decision to stop working for her and branch out on my own,” Collins stated. “She has essentially been on a vendetta since that time to not only hurt me personally but professionally. I’ve tried to move past this and hoped with time that Cindy would move on and I really do hope that one day she finds positivity and peace in her life, but I will defend my reputation and livelihood if Cindy continues down this path.”


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