Taylor corruption scandal widens with new FBI raids
Federal agents have raided the home and business of a second businessman while investigating Mayor Rick Sollars for racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering, The Detroit News has learned.
The raids Wednesday at the West Bloomfield Township home of Hadir "Dave" Altoon and his Taylor party store Dominick's Market represent the latest expansion of a public corruption investigation that burst into view in February during a series of daylight raids at Taylor City Hall, the mayor's house and other locations.
It is unclear why FBI agents are interested in Altoon, 47, but the businessman has contributed to Sollars' political campaign and acquired foreclosed homes that were owned by the city and initially purchased by real estate investor Shady Awad, who also is being investigated by the FBI.
An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the Altoon searches Wednesday, and another raid at Taylor City Hall two weeks ago, but declined to comment further. Altoon declined to discuss the searches.
"I have no comment right now," Altoon told The News on Monday. "I’m busy working."
His work includes donating to Sollars' re-election campaigns and flipping foreclosed homes once owned by the city of Taylor for profit.
Companies affiliated with Altoon have bought more than a half a dozen Taylor properties from Awad, according to property records. The tax foreclosed homes were originally taken by the city of Taylor through the Wayne County Treasurer’s right of refusal program and sold to Awad to rehab. Typically, Awad and other developers have to pay the city the property’s back taxes.
That includes a home on Harold Street. Awad’s company had to pay a little over $3,000 to the city of Taylor for the 700-square-foot ranch in the summer of 2018, according to its contract with the city.
Awad’s company then sold it to Altoon’s company in late 2018 for $10, according to Wayne County Register of Deeds records.
In February 2019, Altoon sold the home for $54,900.
Since 2016, Altoon and employees of his Taylor party store have contributed at least $4,000 to Sollars' political campaign, according to Wayne County campaign finance statements.
The Altoon raids came more than one month after The News revealed that FBI agents seized more than $206,000 from Sollars' home. Federal prosecutors want to seize the mayor's home and vacation chalet in Lenawee County and have filed liens to have the approximately $600,000 worth of real estate forfeited to the government upon conviction.
No one has been charged during the ongoing investigation. Sollars has professed his innocence and remains in office.
Awad's home and office were searched by federal agents in February.
Awad and his company Realty Transition work 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's lawyer Mayer Morganroth was unaware of the FBI raids involving Altoon.
“All I can say is Shady Awad didn’t do anything wrong,” Morganroth told The News. “In the final analysis, he lost money doing these jobs.”
City spokesman Karl Ziomek said officials continue to cooperate with the FBI probe.
“The FBI was in here last week, and that’s always uncomfortable to a certain extent, but the reality is, this is still an ongoing investigation, and we don’t know when it’s going to end,” Ziomek said. “... We cooperated with them the first time they came, and we cooperated with them last week, and will continue to do so.”
As the federal investigation moves forward, a city councilman is asking why a Taylor police corporal who was suspended days after the City Hall raid in February is getting paid “to sit at home doing nothing.”
City Councilman Butch Ramik last month sent two emails to Sollars and other city officials, questioning why Cpl. Matthew Minard is being paid while serving his suspension.
“It could be assumed that (Minard) … is being investigated by the FBI,” Ramik wrote in an April 9 email to city officials. “We are short police officers and need all we have working.”
On April 30, Ramik sent a follow-up email about Minard: “It is my understanding he is retiring soon and while he is on suspension has been going on vacations on taxpayer money.
Ramik wrote. “His vacation time and other benefits are being paid by the taxpayer. If he is going to stay home then stop paying him and when he is cleared of any wrong doing then pay him his back pay.”
Ramik told The Detroit News: “If the mayor’s position is that Minard should be suspended because he’s under FBI investigation, then why didn’t the mayor suspend himself?”
Ziomek said that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.
“I respect Councilman Ramik’s position, and he has every right to question what he wants, but the reality is, we have an officer on leave, per our negotiated contract (with the Police Officers Association of Michigan union).
"Any time one of our officers is being investigated by another law enforcement agency, the contract says we must suspend them, because from an ethical standpoint, it makes sense," Ziomek said. "You don’t want to create a conflict if you have an officer who’s working while he’s under investigation, and he deals with that same agency that’s investigating him.
“To compare the officer to an elected official, I don’t think there’s a parallel, when you have union rules you have to follow,” Ziomek said. “It’s a cut-and-dried issue.”