Feds indict Taylor Mayor Sollars in bribery scandal
Detroit — Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars was indicted Thursday on federal bribery and wire fraud charges and accused of helping a developer obtain city-owned properties in exchange for free work on his home and vacation chalet, including hardwood floors, a humidor, appliances and more.
Sollars is accused of heading a conspiracy with real estate mogul Shady Awad and Jeffrey Baum, the Taylor community development manager, and receiving bribes. In exchange, the mayor helped Awad's real estate development company Realty Transitionand other developers obtain dozens of tax-foreclosed homes in the city, prosecutors said.
Sollars, 45, pocketed bribes, stole campaign contributions and tried to cover up the crimes, according to prosecutors, who accused the mayor of filing phony paperwork with state campaign finance officials.
The 37-page indictment chronicles a conspiracy spanning 2015 to this year, features incriminating text messages and allegations about secret payoffs that included a $1,600 humidor — which Sollars demanded be filled with Cuban cigars.
The 33-count indictment was unsealed 10 months after FBI agents raided Taylor City Hall and searched Sollars' home and chalet in a series of daylight raids and seizures, including $205,993 found in the mayor's house.
The indictment charges Sollars with crimes punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. He was released on $10,000 unsecured bond after making a brief appearance in federal court in Detroit.
“We looked at this indictment, we’re not scared by it," the mayor's lawyer Todd Flood told reporters. "We’re going to take this day and clear my client because he did nothing wrong, and he’s going to continue to serve the people of Taylor. The proper forum is in the courtroom, and that’s where we’re going to be.”
Taylor City Councilman Butch Ramik called the indictment “a sad day.”
“It has to go through the system to be proven, but it’s a form of a serious black eye,” he said.
Ramik noted Sollars has professed his innocence and cautioned the public should “look at both sides of the story before they start making decisions. The story will come out in the courts.”
The Taylor council could discuss the indictment at its next meeting in January, Ramik said. He added that the city charter does not appear to require the mayor be removed or step down when facing criminal charges.
Sollars and Awad were charged with seven bribery counts while the mayor and Baum were charged with 18 counts of wire fraud.
“The unearthing of allegedly blatant corruption at the top levels of government in the City of Taylor should disturb every citizen of our state,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement Thursday.
“Federal law enforcement will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute any public officials who chose their personal greed over their public oath.”
Sollars is the latest politician charged in a decade-long crackdown on public corruption by the FBI and other federal agencies. Since 2008, more than 100 politicians, union bosses, bureaucrats and police officers have been charged with corruption.
The indictment portrays Sollars as demanding and impatient about the pace of installation of free wood floors from Awad and a refinished deck at his lake house.
"I just left and not a sole (sic) in sight," Sollars texted Awad on July 20, 2017, according to the indictment. "They haven't even been there to power wash. I am now going to run into a huge scheduling conflict."
Prosecutors cited numerous text messages in the indictment. In one, Sollars complained about the slow pace of free renovations at his cottage in July 2017.
In response, Awad urged an unidentified contractor to complete the project.
"My relationship with Rick is worth $1 million so whatever it takes I’ll pay for it," wrote Awad, according to the indictment.
In all, Sollars received thousands of dollars in cash, more than $30,000 in renovations to his home, more than $11,000 in renovations to his lake house near Cement City and more than $12,000 in new household appliances, according to the indictment.
That includes a refrigerator, stove, microwave, dishwasher, a vacuum cleaner, and a clothes washer and dryer, hardwood floors at his cottage and on every level of Sollars’ home, prosecutors said.
Sollars also received $4,000 from Awad during an October 2017 trip to Las Vegas, prosecutors said.
"Awad called the money a 'care package,'" Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Gardey, Michael Bullotta and Dawn Ison wrote in the indictment.
Prosecutors want Sollars to forfeit his home, cottage and money seized during the raid.
Awad bought the mayor a $1,600 wooden cigar humidor in September 2016, prosecutors said.
That wasn’t enough to please Sollars, according to the government.
On Sept. 26, 2016, Sollars texted the businessman asking whether the humidor included Cuban cigars.
Sollars then texted Baum.
“(Awad) will be calling you in a panic,” Sollars wrote, according to the indictment. “I just asked him when the Cuban cigars to fill it will be arriving.”
Meanwhile, Baum, the community development manager, received bribes from Awad and an unidentified developer for helping obtain tax-foreclosed properties, according to federal court records. Baum, 44, of Allen Park, could not be reached for comment and his attorney is not identified in court records.
Awad, 39, also of Allen Park, was released on $10,000 unsecured bond Thursday.
"We will take care of this," Awad's lawyer Mayer Morganroth told The News. "As far as we are concerned, he has done nothing wrong."
Baum also served as treasurer of the mayor's campaign fund, which is embroiled in the corruption scandal.
The mayor and Baum defrauded campaign donors in several ways, prosecutors said. One way involved writing checks from the campaign account payable to an area market, purportedly for catering. The market owner, who is not identified in court records, cashed the checks and gave the money to Sollars, according to the indictment.
Sollars and Baum also had campaign contributors write checks to the same market for phony campaign events, prosecutors said.
The market owner cashed the checks and gave Sollars money and scratch-off lottery tickets, according to the indictment.
Sollars also received thousands of dollars in cash campaign contributions and kept the money, according to the government.
Evan Carter contributed