UPDATED October 17, 2018, at 1:35 p.m.:
Less than three weeks before a major lawsuit was filed against the Agency, Billy Rose, the co-founder, stepped down from his position as the firm’s broker of record, The Real Deal has learned.
Michael Caruso, a former boutique brokerage owner who joined the Agency in December, replaced Rose in the broker role in July, license records show.
The title shift came as a lawsuit was being filed against Mauricio Umansky, another Agency co-founder, claiming the agent misled a client when he conspired with another investor to underpay for a Malibu mansion and then flip it for $70 million.
State licensing records show Rose rescinded his broker of record title with the Agency on June 7, just 18 days before the Agency’s insurance company, Western World Insurance, filed a complaint against Umansky and the brokerage.
“It has nothing do with the lawsuit,” Rose said. The timing is “completely coincidental.”
Rose, who is not named as a defendant in the suit, said he stepped down from his broker duties because of the mounting administrative work that came with it. “As we proliferate, there are more of these obligations, duties and administrative exercises that have to be undertaken every day,” he said.
The Beverly Hills-based brokerage is planning to open an office in Miami by the end of the year, bringing its total number of offices to 25.
Caruso, who is also the Agency’s senior vice president of administrative services, echoed Rose’s reasons for the change, saying he was recruited to alleviate some of the pressure from the co-founder. He became the official broker of record for the firm on July 16, he said.
An Agency spokesperson said Thursday that Rose, who had been the broker of record since the Agency’s inception in 2011, did not leave the position “for any other reason than to focus on serving his clients as well as the expansion” of the firm. He continues to work as an agent selling properties.
The spokesperson added that Caruso, who had previously served as the broker of record at his own firm, was selected after a “long search” that began in early 2017.
Being a broker of record is “a tremendous responsibility,” Caruso said. “The broker of record is really the responsible party for all the agent activity within the company as it pertains to the state of California, and the interaction with the Department of Real Estate.”
In the lawsuit, filed June 25 in federal court, Umansky’s insurance firm sued in an effort to avoid paying any damages to the seller, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea. Western World alleges that the failure of the Agency and Umansky to disclose other information was an “obvious violation of fiduciary duties of disclosure” owed to the seller.
The Agency applied for an errors & omissions liability insurance policy in June 2017, according to Western World’s complaint.
Umansky countersued last month, claiming he “did exactly what he was retained to do” when he sold the 15,000-square-foot mansion on Sweetwater Road to Mauricio Oberfeld.
Umansky sought to dismiss several of the initial claims to no avail. A judge recently ruled the case can proceed.
Alexei Barrionuevo contributed reporting.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated that Umansky asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. He requested that the court strike several of the initial claims in the suit, which a judge denied without prejudice.