FBI wiretaps in Fiore case led to Taylor mayor
FBI agents wiretapped towing titan Gasper Fiore's phone three years ago and heard allegations involving Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars and a lucrative towing contract, according to sealed court records that hint at the possible roots of a new corruption investigation.
An FBI wiretap affidavit obtained by The News in 2017 that included probable cause to keep listening to Fiore's phone calls gained new relevance in light of a series of FBI raids Tuesday at Sollars' homes and Taylor City Hall.
"The benefit of a wiretap is people are willing to speak freely and investigators pick up information about other possible cases and learn things they’d never thought of,” Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor, said Wednesday.
In 2016, FBI agents were investigating public corruption and targeting more than a dozen politicians and businessmen, including Fiore and Detroit Councilman Gabe Leland.
In May 2016, Fiore spoke during one wiretapped conversation to a man named Nicholas Primus. Primus described a recent lunch with the Taylor mayor, according to the wiretap affidavit.
During the lunch conversation, Sollars referenced a municipal contract to tow vehicles in Taylor, according to FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman, who summarized contents of the conversation.
"Apparently, the mayor is leaving it up to (a businessman) and Fiore to work out who is the municipal tower for Taylor," Beeckman wrote in the wiretap affidavit.
The FBI wiretap affidavit was temporarily unsealed in federal court in December 2017 and obtained by The News before it was resealed.
Sollars has not been charged with wrongdoing.
“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 Tuesday. “I ask that you please respect my family’s privacy and the integrity of this investigation.”
Sollars met with defense attorney Todd Flood following the raids Tuesday but it was unclear if the mayor has retained defense counsel.
Flood could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Fiore, 58, the former owner of Boulevard and Trumbull Towing who prosecutors dubbed the "Baron of Bribery," was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison in August for bribing politicians while building a lucrative towing empire across Metro Detroit.
He is cooperating with an ongoing federal corruption investigation and could receive a sentencing adjustment. The extent of Fiore's cooperation, and whether he told investigators anything about Sollars, is a secret but is outlined in a sealed federal court filing that Henning said should concern others linked to an ongoing probe.
“It’s to Fiore’s advantage to cooperate if he can point fingers,” Henning said.
The searches at Taylor City Hall and at Sollars’ homes Tuesday indicates the corruption investigation is at an advanced stage, Henning said.
“They don’t want to build a case just on Fiore. That’s why they conduct searches,” Henning said. “Documents would back him up and help establish his credibility because he’s an admitted felon.”
Fiore's lawyer did not respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.