The owners of the 16th largest MLS in the country plan to sell to a title company executive. Now, an agent and local leader has received a cease and desist letter over her criticisms of the deal.

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The owners of multiple listing service REcolorado on Monday revealed new details about the MLS’s would-be buyer, even as controversy persists and an outspoken critic of the sale now faces the threat of legal action.

The sale of REcolorado was first announced in June, though the MLS’s owners — the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR) and the South Metro Denver Realtor Association (SMDRA) — initially provided almost no information about the buyer. Several days later, DMAR and SMDRA revealed the buyer only as “J. Burks” and his newly formed company MAZL, but offered few additional details.

However, on Monday DMAR announced in a statement that “J. Burks” is actually Joseph E. Burks. The statement describes Burks as the president of Equity Title of Colorado as well as an affiliate member of SMDRA. Burks is additionally “one of the largest shareholders in the early creation of CTM eContracts, a widely used contract software for real estate transactions,” according to the statement, and is using a commercial loan to fund his purchase of the MLS.

“Joseph E. Burks’ intention is to support Colorado Realtors and licensees, ensuring that REcolorado remains a cornerstone of our real estate community with an even broader offering of services and technological advancements,” the statement further notes.

The statement ultimately confirms a report in RISMedia published on July 3 identifying Joseph E. Burks as the buyer. That story cited Karen Frisone, a broker and past DMAR director who has posted critically about the sale and its handling on Facebook.

Karen Frisone

Now, however, DMAR and SMDRA have threatened Frisone with legal action: On July 3, a lawyer representing the two Realtor associations sent Frisone a three-page cease and desist letter. The letter demands she take down her Facebook posts, issue a public retraction, and preserve evidence of communications she had with “third parties” who have information about the sale. The letter claims Frisone’s public comments were “false and defamatory.”

In a conversation with Inman Monday, Frisone said, “I don’t really see the point in my taking anything down; I haven’t broken any laws.” She also noted that she posted the cease and desist publicly on DMAR’s own Facebook page — an apparent act of defiance that signals her unwillingness to comply.

“Let’s just say that I don’t really think I need to comply with their request,” she said, adding a moment later, “When somebody sends me a cease and desist letter, doesn’t that just raise more questions?”

Inman reached out multiple times to the lawyer who sent the letter but did not receive a response. Inman also reached out to a representative of DMAR and SMDRA Monday but did not immediately receive a response.

Frisone’s criticism, and the legal threat against her, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to controversy surrounding the sale of REcolorado, which describes itself as the 16th largest MLS in the country. Within hours of DMAR publishing its update on Monday, for example, the association’s Facebook page racked up nearly two dozen new comments. Several came from Frisone and raised questions about Burks, MAZL and the business plan for the MLS under a new owner.

But a number of other observers raised criticisms and questions as well.

“The Board members that spoke to me directly really had ZERO clue what they voted for,” one person wrote.

“The question they are AVOIDING IS…….are the agents who did NOT belong to NAR, still covered under the MLS settlement now that they are selling????” another wondered.

That second comment alludes to an antitrust settlement over agent commissions from the National Association of Realtors. The settlement resolves claims against, among others, NAR, all state and local Realtor organizations, and all multiple listing services owned by Realtor associations. In a previous update, REcolorado’s owners said they were selling the MLS in response to commission litigation.

Monday’s Facebook posts are also not the only pushback the sale has faced. The day news of the sale broke, for example, REcolorado board Vice Chair Shelly Vincent expressed alarm and said she and others — who themselves had hoped to buy the MLS — were pursuing legal action to stop the deal. DMAR and SMDRA later removed REcolorado’s board and installed a new CEO.

With each development — news of the sale, the board’s ouster, the revelation of the buyer’s identity — DMAR and SMDRA have faced criticism, often online, for not providing more information.

The two associations, however, have said that they are legally limited in the information they can share by non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. Monday’s statement reiterated that point but acknowledged criticisms.

“We understand that the initial lack of communication about the pending sale of REcolorado, MAZL and Joseph E. Burks specifically has been perceived as secrecy and has been an ongoing source of frustration this past week, and we apologize again for limited communications,” the statement noted.

The statement goes on to say that “we are committed to transparency and user trust” and to policies ensuring “that your data remains secure and protected.”

“Be assured that MAZL, LLC, is committed to honoring the current REcolorado data and privacy policies,” Burks himself is quoted as saying in the statement.

For now, though, the controversy does not appear to be over. In her conversation with Inman Monday afternoon, Frisone remained critical of the sale, saying that an MLS is akin to an essential public utility and should not be liquidated like other types of assets. She also questioned the wisdom of placing MLS data in the hands of a single owner, said that her public comments reflect conversations with other insiders, and said industry members who use REcolorado still don’t have all the necessary information.

“The way it’s being handled,” she added, “is enough to put the brakes on it.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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