After months of debate over a costly audit and internal struggles, the board of the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois fired its chief executive Tuesday evening.

A board group during a special meeting terminated CEO Jay Huffman “without cause,” according to Huffman’s attorney Karen Levine, partner of Novack and Macey in Chicago. That means there was no statement of wrongdoing, she said.

Huffman has been at the center of a controversial forensic audit conducted by PriceWaterHouseCoopers that some members estimate cost the MLS as much as half a million dollars. The audit was ordered during a shareholder meeting in April after the late arrival of MLSNI financial reports. The MLS has been divided on the results of the audit, which were released in August.

“Mr. Huffman is vindicated,” Levine said. “All along he has proclaimed that he did nothing wrong.”

Levine wouldn’t comment on whether Huffman would receive a severance package.

She indicated there was an unresolved issue regarding the board group that made the decision to terminate Huffman, but would not provide further details. She also said the group did not provide a reason for termination, except to say that it was without cause.

Much of the controversy surrounding Huffman and the forensic audit centers around MLSNI’s investment in a company headed by Huffman’s wife. The company, REBIG–which stands for the Real Estate Business Information Group–is a Chicago-based venture that helps MLSs negotiate data licensing deals. The REBIG investment led to questions by shareholders and board members over a possible conflict of interest.

MLSNI Loretta Alonzo in a letter sent to members in September said the audit found no evidence of fraud.

“The audit findings included no evidence of fraud, financial mismanagement, misappropriation of funds, or any inappropriate activity whatsoever by MLSNI staff, officers or Board members,” Alonzo wrote at the time.

But not everyone agreed with the ultimate findings of the forensic audit. The Chicago Association of Realtors, one of MLSNI’s largest shareholders, said the report revealed “serious issues.”

“To our knowledge, every professional advisor who has looked at the PWC (PriceWaterHouseCoopers) report has indicated that it revealed serious issues that require immediate attention,” John Vranas, the Chicago association’s voting shareholder, said in a statement released after the Aug. 25 meeting. “The shareholders, directors and others who are taking the position that the PWC report revealed no problems are simply not right.”

Vranas this morning could not be reached for comment.

One of the largest MLSs in the country, MLSNI has more than 41,000 members in more than 7,100 real estate offices in the Chicagoland area.

Earlier this year, three major Chicago-area brokerages moved listings from certain offices in the North Shore region to a smaller, broker-operated rival called MAP MLS. Those brokerages were Coldwell Banker, Koenig & Strey and Baird & Warner. The move created controversy among MLSNI members, some of whom complained that agents from those offices were still using MLSNI services without being members.


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