Feds secure first conviction in Taylor mayor bribery scandal
Federal prosecutors Friday secured the first conviction in a bribery case against Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars when a downriver real estate mogul admitted to bribing the politician with more than $53,000 in cash, appliances, home renovations and gambling money during a Las Vegas trip.
Shady Awad, 41, of Allen Park, pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy, a five-year felony, almost two years after he was charged alongside Sollars in an alleged conspiracy involving bribes, luxury items and tax-foreclosed properties, as well as Jeffrey Baum, the suspended Taylor community development manager. In return, federal prosecutors agreed to drop seven bribery counts, each of which could have sent Awad to prison for 10 years.
Awad is the latest person convicted in a more than decade-long crackdown on public corruption in Metro Detroit. Since 2008, more than 100 politicians, union bosses, bureaucrats and police officers have been charged with corruption crimes and there are ongoing FBI investigations targeting Detroit City Council members and police personnel.
Awad's lawyer David DuMouchel declined comment and it was unclearwhether Awad will cooperate against Sollars and Baum and testify in January during the corruption trial. A fourth defendant, Taylor party store owner Hadir Altoon, is expected to plead guilty later this month.
At one point Friday, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith chronicled the stream of illegal benefits flowing from Awad to the mayor. That included more than $30,000 in home renovations, more than $11,000 in renovations to the mayor’s vacation home, and more than $12,000 worth of appliances, kitchen cabinets and other items.
In return, Awad’s property company received more than 95 tax-foreclosed properties in Taylor for redevelopment.
“Is that correct?” the judge asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Awad said.
In return for his guilty plea, prosecutors have agreed not to request a sentence of more than 46 months.
Awad will be sentenced on March 1.
Sollars, meanwhile, was indicted in December 2019 on federal bribery and wire fraud charges and accused of helping Awad's company Realty Transition obtain city-owned properties in exchange for free work on his home and chalet, including hardwood floors, a humidor, appliances and more.
The Altoon case focuses on the city's Right of First Refusal program, which lets developers acquire, redevelop and sell tax-foreclosed properties from the Wayne County Treasurer's Office, including single-family homes and commercial buildings. Sollars had considerable control of the program, prosecutors said.
Sollars and Baum allegedly helped the developers and others obtain properties during a conspiracy from June 2017 until February 2019 that led the mayor to receive more than $80,000 in cash payments and $4,000 for Baum, according to the court filing.
Sollars received 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 2015-19, 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 in December 2019, 10 months after FBI agents raided Taylor City Hall and searched Sollars' house and vacation home in a series of daylight raids and seizures. Agents seized $205,993 from the mayor's house.
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," Awad wrote, according to the indictment.
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 wrote in the indictment.
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.”