Women at Fast-Growing Realty Firm Say They Were Drugged and Assaulted

The closing night party at the annual conference of eXp Realty was — in the company’s own words — “epic.”

The $2 billion company is one of the fastest growing brokerages in the world, with nearly 90,000 agents. And on this night in October, eXp was showing off.

Inside the Omnia nightclub at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, more than 5,000 real estate agents packed into the dark alongside an open bar. A chandelier that looked like a spaceship flashed its kinetic lights as the crowd gyrated until the early hours, confetti falling from the ceiling.

It was a declaration of eXp’s culture: Work hard, play harder — and build wealth in the process. But in more than 30 interviews with current and former eXp agents, women said the culture has an underbelly. The company’s highest earners are granted star status, and allegations of misconduct are ignored.

In two lawsuits, the first filed in February and the second on Thursday, five women described a yearslong pattern of predatory behavior by two marquee agents. The women said the agents drugged them during alcohol-soaked eXp events, and four of the women said they were then sexually assaulted. Executives ignored complaints about the men for years, acting only after the first lawsuit was filed, agents said.

In addition, current and former agents said the company ignored allegations about other sexual misconduct, and the company has not changed its culture.

eXp Realty has a unique structure — agents are recruited by other agents who then take a cut of their earnings, so everyone is funneling money to people above them. That means there is little incentive to root out high earners even when they are accused of assault, women said.

“Everyone is just a recruiter. They’re not there to sell homes and represent the client,” said Tricia Turner, 53, a Houston broker who left eXp in August. “The ones that grow their teams the fastest are the center of attention for the company and the cheerleaders for the company. And unfortunately, it’s like they can do no wrong.”

One of the men accused in the lawsuit stopped working with the company in 2020, and eXp cut ties with the other in March, when the women added Glenn Sanford, the chief executive of eXp, as a defendant. Mr. Sanford has described the issue as resolved.

“We believe that we had two bad actors in our agent base,” Mr. Sanford said in a November earnings call with investors.

But eXp agents said drinking and partying in hotel rooms have continued, and dozens of videos on social media of the Las Vegas conference showed agents, with drinks in hand, grinning for the camera.

As recently as May, after the first lawsuit was filed, a female broker said she was drugged and assaulted by a vendor during a conference in Florida.

The accusations deliver another blow to the shaken real estate industry, where men dominate executive boards but women make up the majority of agents and face routine harassment and abuse on the job, as well as the largest gender pay gap in the United States. In August, The New York Times exposed widespread allegations of sexual harassment at the National Association of Realtors, the professional organization that sets ethics guidelines for Realtors in the United States. The organization’s president resigned two days after that story’s publication. Its chief executive and its head of human resources both announced they were taking early retirement in the following weeks.

At eXp, five women reported that after attending work events they woke the next morning unsure how they had arrived in their hotel beds. Three said they were naked. All pointed to the same two men — Michael Bjorkman and David Golden as the ones who drugged and sometimes assaulted them.

In the first lawsuit, one woman said she remembered nothing between having a cocktail and waking up naked the next morning in her hotel room in Newport Beach, Calif. Another woman said she blacked out after being handed a drink at a real estate conference in Beverly Hills. A third woman said her memory dimmed after she drank a cocktail at an eXp recruiting event in Las Vegas. Another believed she was drugged and sexually assaulted at the same event.

The woman who filed the second lawsuit said she blacked out on multiple evenings she spent with the pair, the complaint reads.

When reached by phone about the multiple allegations against him, Mr. Bjorkman, 50, said, “It’s definitely not true.” Peter Levine, a lawyer for Mr. Golden, called the charges “baseless and without merit,” and said that “the plaintiffs’ claims are repugnant. Mr. Golden condemns sexual assault and exploitation of any kind.”

Mr. Sanford declined to comment because he is a defendant in the lawsuits. Because of eXp’s structure, its agents are independent contractors, not company employees, a representative said.

“eXp Realty has zero tolerance for abuse, harassment, or exploitation of any kind — including by the independent real estate agents who use our services,” the eXp representative said in an emailed statement. “The claims in this case stem from alleged assaults by independent real estate agents who were never eXp employees — which we handled with speed, seriousness, and deep respect as soon as the accusers brought it to our attention, in line with our values and with the law.”

When contacted about the additional lawsuit, she could not immediately be reached for comment.

But two former eXp employees and a former consultant for the company each told The Times they talked with company executives, including Mr. Sanford, about the allegations concerning Mr. Bjorkman and Mr. Golden months before the first lawsuit was filed, and criticized eXp for failing to act.

Usually, real estate agents work in a brick-and-mortar office and earn income — and accolades — solely by selling homes. But eXp has no physical offices, and is structured as a multilevel marketing operation, like Herbalife, Amway or Mary Kay. They are an accredited brokerage, but critics refer to it as a pyramid scheme, pointing to a required fee of $85 a month — amounting to over $7.4 million each month in revenue for eXp — that all agents must pay.

The company was founded by Mr. Sanford in 2009 in response to the Great Recession. The most successful recruiters are called “influencers” and bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, not from selling homes, but simply from their cut of earnings from the agents they helped enlist.

Those influencers are revered. They hold packed seminars on the art of “agent attraction” and produce social media videos about how they obtained a lifestyle of private jets and passive income.

The company has been publicly traded since 2013, is now in over 20 countries, and has more than doubled the number of its agents since the pandemic.

For some, that breakneck growth has come with regrets. Every agent at eXp must declare a sponsor — the agent who recruited them into the company — on a signed document that describes the decision as “irrevocable,” and states “changes in sponsorship will not be made.”

Women who said they were sexually assaulted found themselves trapped in a hierarchy of sponsors who shared their revenue, referred to as an “upline.” Mr. Golden sponsored Mr. Bjorkman, who in turn sponsored three women in the initial suit. Mr. Bjorkman and Mr. Golden traveled together around the country and hosted recruiting parties in lavish hotel suites, multiple women said in interviews.

In both lawsuits, the company is described as one where an intense hierarchy and a get-rich-quick way of doing business set the stage for drugging and attacks.

Because of its structure, the company’s path for reporting harassment allegations is murky; its policies encourage agents who believe they have been threatened to contact a member of eXp’s corporate team or the broker who oversees their real estate license through state law. The policies do not specify which corporate member should be contacted, or how brokers and executives should respond.

Even after they stopped working with eXp, Mr. Bjorkman and Mr. Golden continued to collect payments from the company, some of which came from the women accusing them of sexual assault, according to the first complaint.

“Because of eXp’s structure and its refusal to act, our clients were forced to continue financially supporting their rapists,” said Brooke Cohen, one of several lawyers representing the women.

Mr. Bjorkman declined to comment on possible payments and then added, “I look forward to winning in court.” Mr. Levine, the lawyer for Mr. Golden, also declined to comment about the possible payments.

The representative for eXp said that the company revised its revenue-sharing policies earlier this year and can stop payments to agents whose contracts were terminated. The company did not directly respond to questions about whether Mr. Bjorkman and Mr. Golden continued to receive payments after they left.

The allegations of the five women who are suing echo each other.

In July 2018, Fabiola Acevedo, 49, attended a networking and recruiting event at the Pelican Hill Hotel in Newport Beach, Calif.

She had been invited by Mr. Golden who offered her a ticket purchased by Mr. Bjorkman. At check-in, she was informed there were no rooms available, the complaint reads. Distraught, she called Mr. Golden, who said his friend, Mr. Bjorkman, could share his room with her. According to the complaint, the room had separate beds.

According to the complaint, she had one drink that night with Mr. Bjorkman at the hotel bar.

The following morning, according to the complaint, she woke up naked in her hotel bed and Mr. Bjorkman and another woman were both naked in the room’s other bed. As she made her way to the shower, the complaint reads, Mr. Bjorkman followed her and made a lewd proposition.

The complaint alleges that Ms. Acevedo was drugged that night and then assaulted by Mr. Bjorkman. When Ms. Acevedo tried to report the incident to eXp in the spring of 2022, it reads, she was ignored.

In an interview, she said fellow agents told her she should stop sharing her story, then in July 2022 she was ultimately presented with an offer of a $50,000 confidential settlement from James Bramble, eXp’s chief legal counsel. She did not accept it. The Times reviewed the settlement offer.

“They did everything they could to silence me,” Ms. Acevedo said. Documents reviewed by The Times show that on at least eight occasions she asked the company to take action against Mr. Golden and remove Mr. Bjorkman as her sponsor. She emailed eXp leaders, including Mr. Sanford, who did not reply. “Everybody shut the door in my face. I spoke to so many people,” she said.

Mr. Bramble did not respond to a request for comment, and eXp declined to comment.

To Tami Sims, 52, Mr. Bjorkman was a friend. They had known each other since junior high school.

They had been real estate partners for nearly a decade, and she joined eXp with him in 2018. While attending a gathering at a recruiting event for eXp in Beverly Hills, Calif., in April 2019, the complaint reads, Mr. Bjorkman handed her a drink.

According to the complaint, she remembers very little until the following morning, when she woke up naked and alone in her hotel room, bleeding from her vagina.

The complaint describes her being tormented by an inability to recall what happened that evening. Then, at the end of April 2019, according to the complaint, “Bjorkman finally admitted that they did have sex,” and had not told her because “he didn’t want to embarrass her.”

Ms. Sims said she has not been able to sell real estate since. “Our relationship was like brother and sister. I didn’t think he would ever hurt me,” she said.

Nearly a year and a half later in August 2020, Christy Lundy, a 42-year-old real estate agent from San Diego, was invited to an eXp recruiting event in Las Vegas. According to the complaint, she attended a get-together in Mr. Bjorkman and Mr. Golden’s suite at the Encore Resort, where she drank a single vodka and soda cocktail.

She felt sick during a dinner with friends less than an hour later. She passed out, her head smacking a table. Her friends later told her she disappeared to the bathroom for several long periods, vomited and refused to eat. But she does not remember the evening’s events. “I didn’t realize how much was just gone until my friends started telling me about that night,” Ms. Lundy said.

According to the complaint, Ms. Lundy believes she was drugged by Mr. Bjorkman and Mr. Golden.

In an interview, she said she believes she avoided assault because her friends stayed with her. She said she continues to feel shame when thinking about the evening. “If we’re going to change it for our daughters, if we’re going to change it for other women, we have to be willing to speak about it and we have to not be ashamed,” Ms. Lundy said.

According to the complaint, on that same weekend, the fourth woman in the lawsuit watched both Mr. Golden and Mr. Bjorkman consume a drink that they told her contained gamma hydroxybutyric acid, one of the “date rape drugs” that cause loss of consciousness and memory. GHB, as it is commonly known, can also be taken recreationally by those with a tolerance to it in order to enhance sexual pleasure and produce a high.

In a police report compiled by a Las Vegas detective, she said she remembered waking up in a bed to find Mr. Bjorkman forcing his hand inside of her, but little else. Several weeks later, the report states, she began having flashbacks, and realized that after she pushed Mr. Bjorkman’s hand away, he guided her out of the bed into an adjoining room with a massage table and sexually assaulted her while she was unable to move.

In an interview, she described feeling like her body wasn’t functioning.

Documents obtained by The Times show that she told Stacey Onnen, who was then eXp’s president, less than two months later that she believed she had been assaulted.

Citing pending litigation, Ms. Onnen said she could not comment.

The police report detailed at least eight additional claims of drugging and assault between 2000 and 2020, all accusing Mr. Bjorkman. The report also included multiple interviews from women describing Mr. Golden as an accomplice.

In February 2021, Mr. Bjorkman was charged in Las Vegas on two counts of sexual assault. The district attorney’s office opted not to proceed with the case three months later. The office did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but David Chesnoff, a lawyer for Mr. Bjorkman, said that he and his team did “investigative work, which we then provided to the district attorney and the police department.”

Mr. Golden was not charged.

The fourth woman in the lawsuit, who asked not to be named for fear of professional retaliation, wanted to move to a different sponsor, she said, not only because Mr. Bjorkman and Mr. Golden may have been profiting every time she sold a home, but so were several other agents, including one whom she says had once rubbed her thigh in front her husband, who is also a plaintiff in the suit.

After having thoughts of suicide, she spent nearly four months at an in-treatment mental health center.

Anya Roberts, who filed her suit on Thursday, met Mr. Golden at a real estate event in Puerto Vallarta in February 2020. According to her complaint, she soon began what she thought was a romantic relationship with him. But on multiple occasions, the complaint reads, he offered her something to consume just before her memory vanished — once, alongside a woman who is also accused of assaulting her, a pill that she was told was Adderall; another time, with Mr. Bjorkman present, a drink they said contained a performance-enhancing drug that would bolster her workouts.

According to the complaint, Ms. Roberts believes she was sexually assaulted by both Mr. Golden and Mr. Bjorkman while unconscious.

“I’m still struggling every day because of this,” she said in an interview. “I’ve lost everything.”

She holds the brokerage accountable, she said, because she believes Mr. Golden’s status at eXp blinded her to what was unfolding.

“This man was somebody I trusted because the company presented him as a leader, an influencer, somebody to model my life after,” she said. “I didn’t just trust him. I trusted eXp.”

Attorneys for Mr. Golden and Mr. Bjorkman were not immediately available for comment on the new lawsuit.

Ms. Roberts’s complaint details allegations of assault and harassment by other top eXp agents as well. These include an allegation from April 2021, when, according to the complaint, star eXp recruiter Michael Sherrard sat next to her at an eXp event in Los Cabos and showed her a picture of his car, a purple Lamborghini with vanity plates that read “EXPRLTY,” and then put his hand up her skirt and repeatedly brushed two fingers between her legs.

Mr. Sherrard continues work with eXp. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr. Golden’s Nevada real estate license is currently inactive, and on his Facebook page he advertises a new venture, a referral-based home-flipping network called Sundae with a similar revenue model to eXp.

Mr. Bjorkman continues to run his brokerage, Team Bjorkman, based in Ventura, Calif.

In interviews, other women agents said they told eXp leaders about other sexual assaults, but the company rebuffed them or took little action.

In April 2022, a female consultant for eXp, concerned after receiving phone calls from multiple women who said they had been drugged and sexually assaulted, sent an impassioned letter to the eXp board of directors, urging them to take substantive action — allow the women who were reporting assaults to move sponsors, create a whistle-blower process for reporting and start an independent investigation into the events. The Times reviewed the letter.

Her recommendations were not answered by the board of directors, and in August 2022, she was told her services as a consultant were no longer required.

In Richmond Hill, Ga., eXp broker Jennifer Holt filed an ethics complaint against her sponsor, Randy Bocook, in October 2022, after he texted her asking for photos of her watching pornography. He cornered her and forcibly grabbed her rear end in the office, she said. Mr. Bocook voluntarily surrendered his real estate license a month later, but she said she later found emails showing that eXp continued to issue Mr. Bocook revenue share payments as recently as this July, amounting to as much as $9,000 a month. She shared the emails and text messages with The Times.

Mr. Bocook referred a request for comment to his lawyer, who declined to comment.

When the first federal lawsuit was filed, Mr. Sanford vowed change, pledging to make eXp “the best, safest real estate brokerage on the planet.”

In May, two months after that promise, Kirsten Browne Childress, a broker in North Carolina, flew to Orlando for the eXp Shareholder Summit. At the conference, she attended a party held by an eXp affiliate and blacked out. When she came to, she was in a strange hotel bed and a real estate photographer she had met earlier that evening was on top of her, penetrating her with his hands wrapped around her neck, a police report reads.

“The bruises on her body and neck were not consensual,” said Robin Mann, a North Carolina Realtor who is friends with Ms. Childress.

Ms. Mann helped Ms. Childress get to the hospital later that evening, and Ms. Childress filed a police report hours later. eXp responded to the complaint that she had been sexually assaulted by paying for her hotel room and flying her husband to be with her.

In a statement, the eXp representative said “the alleged assaulter was not an eXp agent or employee and the assault did not occur at the eXp event location,” and that they had banned him from further eXp events.

They did not reach out to Ms. Childress directly until last month, when they learned about the Times’ reporting.

Ms. Childress does not have health insurance, and eXp did not cover her medical bills. She pressed charges against Nicholas Moore, a photographer who was a vendor at the convention, but the state attorney opted not to file them, citing a lack of evidence.

“Those were false allegations,” Mr. Moore said when reached by phone. “A lot of females lie.”

Reina Nieves contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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