FBI investigating Taylor mayor for bribery, racketeering
FBI agents are investigating Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars for racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering and want to seize his home and vacation chalet, according to new documents obtained Wednesday by The Detroit News.
Documents filed in Wayne and Lenawee counties help explain why FBI agents searched Taylor City Hall last month, part of a series of daylight raids that included stops at Sollars' home and cottage, and the home and office of a city contractor.
One week after the Feb. 19 raids, prosecutors filed liens against the Downriver politician's home and his cottage near Cement City. Prosecutors want the approximately $600,000 worth of real estate forfeited to the government upon conviction.
The liens serve as a looming threat against Sollars and reference some of the most severe white-collar crimes prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Wire fraud and the racketeering charge are punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.
“This looks like the start of a criminal action,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “The government is getting ready and something is on the horizon.”
The liens serve a strategic purpose.
“This makes sure the property isn’t suddenly sold or transferred,” Henning said. “The government wants to preserve their interest in it.”
Sollars, 45, has not been charged with wrongdoing and professed his innocence while he remains in office.
On Feb. 19, FBI agents were spotted carting documents and other evidence from Sollars' home in the 22000 block of Hunter Circle in Taylor. Simultaneously, an FBI team searched the mayor's $300,000 vacation chalet overlooking Silver Lake, about 80 miles west of Detroit and near Michigan International Speedway.
Sollars bought the cottage three years ago.
It is not unusual for the government to file liens amid a criminal investigation.
“That’s the government using a prophylactic measure prior to the disposition of anything,” Sollars’ legal adviser Todd Flood said Wednesday. “Anything further, we can’t comment on.”
The government took similar action against former Fiat Chrysler Vice President Alphons Iacobelli, who lived in a Rochester Hills mansion. Iacobelli was convicted last year and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in federal prison but got to keep his mansion.
The Taylor corruption investigation appears to have flowed from an earlier scandal in Macomb County.
FBI agents wiretapped towing titan Gasper Fiore's phone three years ago and heard allegations involving 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 last month at Sollars' homes and Taylor City Hall.
The FBI raids last month included searches at the home and office of a city contractor Tuesday to determine if politicians pocketed bribes and kickbacks.
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.
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.
The searches targeted a firm that works in 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.
The scandal has widened since the raids.
Sollars' chief of staff is leaving his post and a police officer has been suspended following the FBI searches.