Taylor cop suspended, mayor's aide quits as FBI corruption probe widens
Taylor — Mayor Rick Sollars' chief of staff is leaving his post and a police officer has been suspended following a raid on the mayor's office this week by FBI agents investigating public corruption.
FBI agents also are investigating whether a contractor whose home and office was raided Tuesday helped renovate the mayor's lakefront chalet in Lenawee County, sources told The News.
New threads of the investigation surfaced Friday, three days after FBI agents raided Taylor City Hall, the mayor's home and chalet, and the house and office of city contractor Shady Awad. No charges have been filed as investigators sift through documents and other evidence seized during raids and try to determine whether public officials received bribes and kickbacks for awarding contracts.
Sollars' chief of staff, Robert Dickerson, submitted his resignation letter Jan. 25, almost four weeks before the investigation burst into public view. FBI agents interviewed him Tuesday while investigators executed a search warrant at city hall.
“He met with representatives of the FBI voluntarily on Tuesday and was advised he is not a target of the investigation,” city of Taylor spokesman Karl Ziomek said.
An FBI spokeswoman declined comment Friday.
Dickerson, the former Romulus police chief who was hired as the mayor's chief of staff three years ago, could not be reached for comment. Dickerson told the mayor he is leaving Taylor in coming weeks to work for a real estate development company, according to the resignation letter.
"The city of Taylor is in great hands with you and your leadership team, and without a doubt, the city is both financially and professionally positioned for continued accelerated growth, successes, and opportunities," Dickerson wrote to the mayor.
City officials refused Friday to release a list of items seized by FBI agents during the raid at City Hall.
On Friday, The News learned that Matthew Minard, who is listed as a police corporal on the city's website, was suspended after the FBI raids, according to sources.
“The police department does not release names, but we do have an officer on paid administrative leave due to the FBI probe,” Ziomek said.
He would not elaborate on why the law enforcement official was suspended.
Minard, who could not be reached for comment, and Dickerson are close associates of the mayor. The trio traveled to Las Vegas in November 2016 with a Taylor businessman.
Minard paid for the tickets but was reimbursed, the city spokesman said.
“Minard fronted the money. Sollars and Dickerson reimbursed him for that payment,” Ziomek said.
The FBI searches Tuesday extended far beyond Taylor City Hall.
Investigators also traveled 80 miles west of Detroit and searched Sollars' chalet in Cement City.
Sources familiar with the investigation said agents are questioning improvements made at the chalet, particularly a new deck overlooking Silver Lake.
Sollars bought the home three years ago for $300,000 and was an infrequent visitor to the lakefront house, neighbor Kary Watson said.
Watson has lived across the street from the Sollars chalet for 38 years.
“It’s an A-frame; he had it all repainted this summer and somebody did a bunch of work inside,” Watson told The News. “Someone put a hot water heater in and left the box in the driveway.”
Sollars declined comment.
On Thursday, Sollars said he was innocent during the State of the City address.
Awad is a real estate mogul and owner of Realty Transition in Allen Park. The firm 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.
Awad has not responded to messages seeking comment.
The corruption scandal is the latest challenge facing Sollars.
In August 2015, a civil lawsuit was filed by Sollars’ business partner in Wayne County Circuit Court alleging Sollars had embezzled from their business, Kut-Rite Manufacturing. The lawsuit was dismissed months later.
Sollars, who owned half of the business with his partner Ralph Neri, was accused of embezzling more than $240,000 from Kut-Rite since 2012 and spending the money on sports memorabilia and personal expenses.
“In 2014 alone, Sollars used more than $107,000 in Kut-Rite funds to pay for personal and other expenses that had nothing to do with the business,” according to the complaint. “… Sollars’ embezzlement from Kut-Rite included the use of company funds to pay for approximately $25,000 in sports memorabilia in 2012 and 2013.”
In court filings, an attorney for Sollars called the complaint a “frivolous lawsuit.” Sollars denied all allegations and said Neri had an ulterior motive.
“The hope was that by filing the lawsuit — a public document — the plaintiffs could extort money from Sollars, who in addition to being a 50 percent owner in Kut-Rite Manufacturing, also is the Mayor of the City of Taylor,” according to Sollars’ motion.
After Sollars asserted his own claims against Neri for defamation, misuse of funds and breach of contract, both men withdrew their allegations against one another. The case was dismissed in May 2016.