Taylor mayor focuses on 'people's work' after feds raid home, City Hall
Taylor — Hours after FBI agents searched Taylor City Hall and Mayor Rick Sollars' properties on Tuesday, Sollars said he remained focused on the "people's work" and would cooperate with a public corruption investigation.
In politics, he said, “you make a few enemies.”
“Taylor has always been somewhat of a political hot bed," Sollars said outside his home Tuesday during a news conference. "There’s always been detractors. If you look at what we’ve accomplished, that’s my focus.”
FBI agents searched multiple locations Tuesday during the public corruption investigation, including the home and vacation property of Sollars, The Detroit News has learned.
The exact nature of the investigation was unclear, but the searches come amid questions about Taylor police officers pocketing vehicle inspection fees and allegations that Sollars and a city councilman received kickbacks from a towing contractor.
The raids are the latest crackdown on public corruption in Metro Detroit in recent years, a crackdown that has produced 17 convictions and led to federal charges against 22 contractors and public officials, including Detroit Councilman Gabe Leland.
A team of FBI agents arrived at City Hall around 10:30 a.m., FBI Special Agent Mara Schneider told The News. Agents were searching multiple locations, including Sollars' home and his vacation chalet in Cement City, about 80 miles west of Detroit and near Michigan International Speedway.
The FBI declined to reveal the focus of the investigation.
"And while I recognize the public’s right to know what the FBI is doing on its behalf, we have a responsibility to protect the integrity of our investigation and, as importantly, we have a responsibility to protect the rights of individuals who have not been charged with any crimes," Timothy Slater, the FBI special agent in charge of the Detroit office, said in a statement.
There have been no arrests, Schneider said.
Outside Sollars' house on Hunter Circle, Schneider confirmed federal authorities were executing a warrant.
“We’re just executing a search warrant here," she said. "We have a number of them to do today, all related to the same investigation."
Schneider declined to specify other locations being searched by federal agents. Around 2 p.m. Tuesday, the search of the mayor’s home wrapped up.
Shortly before 2:45 p.m., attorney Todd Flood arrived at the home. He told a reporter he was not representing Sollars, then went inside.
Sollars told reporters gathered outside his home that he is cooperating with the investigation. He’ll also remained focused, he said, on the work of the city.
“I will continue to work hard on behalf of the residents of city of Taylor to make sure the people’s work gets done,” he said. “I ask that you please respect my family’s privacy and the integrity of this investigation.”
Sollars said he “did not see anything coming” and didn’t want to say more because “I don’t want to jeopardize the investigation.”
He said he does not have an attorney because at this time he doesn’t need one.
Solars again addressed the probe at a City Council meeting Tuesday night, repeating that he would "cooperate and assist in any way that I can."
City Council chairman Tim Woolley said: “We’re still not aware of everything that’s going on. We’re waiting on information as well.”
After the meeting, Sollars told reporters that he did not get a chance to read the search warrant and doesn’t know what federal officers are searching for.
Sollars, 45, was elected mayor of the Downriver community 17 miles west of Detroit in November 2013 following two terms on the City Council and a career in private business as a partner of three Romulus-based manufacturing companies.
Janet Nicholson has lived two doors down from Sollars for 13 years and said he’s been a good neighbor and city leader.
“I can’t believe it. He’s such a good family guy,” said Nicholson, 73, who said she chats with Sollars at homeowner association meetings. “He’s a very nice guy; so is his wife. He has done for Taylor like nobody’s business. He’s the best mayor we’ve ever had.”
Nicholson, who has lived in the city since 1968, said the FBI’s presence in her neighborhood was “very unexpected.”
“I just hope it’s not true,” she said. “It’s such a shame.”
Neighbor Dorina Igna said she was in “disbelief” Tuesday that federal agents had raided the home of Sollars.
“They are very family oriented, a great family,” she said while driving past the house Tuesday afternoon.
Igna said she’s known the family for at least 16 years.
“They are very open. They are not guarded or closed off,” she said.
An unidentified man who arrived at the home Tuesday after authorities left declined to speak to media, saying, “it's private property.”
At City Hall, FBI agents were spotted inside the second-floor mayor's office and blocked access to the area. One agent in the office wore rubber gloves and was taking pictures with a camera.
While agents busied themselves in the mayor’s office, grim-faced city employees and police officers wandered through the corridors of City Hall, declining to comment.
Some employees hung around the lobby, craning their necks to try to peer into the mayor’s office, as men in suits darted in and out.
Yellow caution tape, accompanied by a sign bearing the message “under construction,” prevented curious onlookers and reporters from going onto the second floor.
Taylor Police Chief John Blair declined to comment, saying only "they’re cooperating with the FBI investigation.”
Agents also concentrated their search in the city's Development Services office, which handles the sale of city properties, Community Development Block Grants and other services.
City Treasurer Edward Bourassa was unsure why FBI agents were searching City Hall and the mayor's office. Bourassa, who was home sick Tuesday and who filed a federal employment lawsuit against the city last month, does not know if the search was prompted by anything related to city finances.
“I haven’t heard anything except for what’s in the media and on Facebook,” he said. “I don’t know anything that’s going on.”
The searches came amid questions about alleged fraud involving Taylor police officers accused of pocketing money generated by vehicle inspections, allegations that sparked a federal lawsuit last month.
In April 2018, two Taylor police officers were placed on paid administrative leave amid a state investigation into the alleged fraud.
Councilman Herman “Butch” Ramik, a former Taylor police officer, said he blew the whistle on the alleged fraud when he discovered two officers weren’t turning in $100 fees paid to inspect salvaged vehicles.
One suspended officer, Patrick Raboczkay, sued the mayor, Ramik and the city last month in federal court. Raboczkay alleges he was investigated by the state as retaliation for speaking out about a company the mayor and Ramik wanted to award an exclusive towing contract.
"Upon information and belief, defendants Ramik and Sollars are receiving financial kickbacks from" the towing contractor, Raboczkay's lawyer Andrew Paterson wrote in the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, Paterson said he hoped the FBI searches "lead to much needed changes within Taylor's city government."
"The FBI's raid of the Taylor City Hall and Mayor Sollars' residence is of no surprise to those who have been unfairly subjected to the unethical and unlawful tactics of certain Taylor city officials, Paterson said in a statement.
Ramik defended his actions Tuesday.
“I’m still trying to figure out how I defamed them, since I never mentioned their names," he said. "I contacted the AG’s office because I knew the city salvage inspectors hadn’t been turning in money; I could find no record of them turning any money in. We’re up to almost $300,000 in missing money.”
Neighbor Kary Watson lives across the street from Sollars’ vacation home overlooking Silver Lake. He saw six FBI agents leave the home around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, some carrying folders. Sollars, who bought the home three years ago for $300,000, was an infrequent visitor to the lakefront home.
“I’ve never talked to him — he kept to himself,” Watson told The News. “I only saw him two or three times last summer. He shows up in a high-dollar (Chevrolet) Suburban, all tinted out, stays a half hour and leaves.”