Taylor corruption probe leads FBI to real estate mogul
Federal agents investigating Taylor City Hall corruption raided the home and office of a city contractor Tuesday to determine if politicians pocketed bribes and kickbacks, The Detroit News has learned.
The searches at the home and office of Realty Transition owner Shady Awad in Allen Park provide a fuller picture of an FBI public corruption investigation that emerged Tuesday during a series of daylight raids. The raids included searches at Taylor City Hall and the home and vacation chalet of Mayor Rick Sollars.
There have been no arrests during the ongoing investigation, the latest public corruption probe to emerge in Metro Detroit in recent years. It is unclear what, if anything, was seized from Awad's home or office in the 14000 block of Southfield Road because the search warrant affidavits listing probable cause to search the locations have not been unsealed.
FBI spokesman Mara Schneider confirmed the searches at Awad's home and Realty Transition but declined comment about the investigation.
The searches targeted a firm that works with Taylor and other municipalities to rehabilitate hundreds of foreclosed and distressed properties. Realty Transition is active in at least 15 local communities, including Detroit, Canton Township, Dearborn, Ecorse, Melvindale, Romulus, Southgate, Westland and Wyandotte, according to the company's website.
Sollars touted the city's partnership with Realty Transition in 2015 as a way to revitalize 95 tax-foreclosed properties. The city purchases properties and transfers the homes to developers, including Realty Transition, which restores the properties before renting or selling them.
“This is a program to help protect the residents and the neighborhoods of the city of Taylor,” Sollars said in 2015.
Awad, 38, who has contributed to the Taylor mayor's election campaign, could not be reached for comment early Wednesday. Daniel Stockrahm, the firm's project administrator, declined comment.
“I’m sorry I can’t give you a comment. We’ve been advised not to comment,” he said.
Since 2015, Awad has contributed $6,550 to the election campaigns of Taylor politicians, according to Wayne County campaign finance statements. Sollars received $2,250, the most of any Taylor politician.
In all, Awad and Realty Transition employees have contributed $25,760 to political campaigns since 2015, including politicians in Romulus, Westland and Dearborn. Awad gave $1,000 to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in 2017.
Neither Awad nor his company have contracts with the city of Detroit, city spokesman John Roach said.
The city of Taylor started buying foreclosed homes in 2015 to sell them to developers who pledged to fix them up and sell to owner occupants, one of about a dozen other inner-ring suburbs who have operated similar programs.
By state law, the county treasurer has to offer the foreclosed properties to the municipalities for the price of the taxes owed before the treasurer auctions them off to the general public.
Developers were able to buy from the city for the tax debt or even a lower amount and then sell them for market rate once rehabbed.
The programs garnered criticism in some communities, such as Garden City, because some of the foreclosed properties still had owners or renters living in them. Many owners maintain that the county didn't properly notify them and that they were unaware they were so close to losing their homes.
Records show Taylor has bought more than 200 properties through this process since 2015, called the Right of First Refusal.
Attorney Tarek Baydoun represented about 30 families, including five in Taylor who were living in homes that were lost to tax foreclosure and then sold through local municipalities to developers, including Realty Transition. Some were resolved outside of court. But others cases were rejected in U.S. District Court.
"We are going to take a look at this," Baydoun said. "Hopefully there will be recourse under the law.
"These were sweetheart deals ... part of a broader scheme to transfer mortgage free homes."