Michigan mayor indicted on federal bribery, wire fraud charges

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The mayor of Taylor, Mich., has been criminally charged in a multiple count federal indictment alleging he took tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from a real estate developer and stole more than $200,000 from his own campaign fund.

Mayror Richard Sollars and the city's community development manager, Jeffrey Baum, are accused of conspiring with businessman Shady Awad to award Awad's company contracts to develop the vast majority of the city's tax-foreclosed properties over several years in exchange for kickbacks, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The kickbacks included cash and $41,000 worth of renovations to Sollars' house in Taylor and his lake home, the indictment charges. The renovations included hardwood floors at both homes and a new deck at his lake house, the indictment said. Sollars was also given more than $12,000 in new household appliances, including a $1,600 cigar humidor, the indictment charges.

In October 2017, while they were in Las Vegas, Awad gave Sollars at least $4,000 in cash for gambling money, the indictment said.

Sollars was arraigned Thursday in U.S. District Court in Detroit on seven counts of bribery, one count of conspiring to commit bribery and 18 counts of wire fraud. Each count is punishable by lengthy prison terms as long as 20 years and by fines of as much as $250,000.

Sollars, standing beside his lawyer, prominent criminal attorney Todd Flood, and with his wife in the audience, leaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford, who released him on a $10,000 unsecured bond. She ordered Sollars to stay in the United States, to surrender his passport and to refrain from contact with any witnesses in the case.

In response, Flood told the judge: "My client is the mayor of the city of Taylor. There may be witnesses that he has interaction with who are employees of the city of Taylor," and went on to ask that Sollars be allowed to communicate "perhaps through intermediaries."

But the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta, said he did not anticipate calling any city employees as witnesses.

After the brief hearing, Flood said only that "We look forward to trying this case in the courtroom."

Asked whether he'd continue as mayor, Sollars replied, "Absolutely." When asked by a reporter whether anything in the city charter might prevent that during his criminal case, he said, "Absolutely not."

Earlier on Thursday, Awad was arraigned in the same courtroom and released with an identical $10,000 unsecured bond.

The stunning 37-page federal indictment cites a cellphone text from Awad to an unnamed contractor as saying that his relationship with Sollars "is worth $1 million, so whatever it takes I'll pay for it."

The kickbacks were in exchange for Awad's company being awarded contracts to acquire, redevelop and sell tax-foreclosed properties in the city, the federal government alleges. In 2015, for example, Awad was awarded the right to redevelop all 95 of the tax-foreclosed properties that year.

Baum also received kickbacks, the indictment alleges, including $4,500 in cash given to him in July 2018 by Awad.

The indictment also accuses Sollars and Baum of wire fraud for allegedly siphoning off more than $200,000 from the mayor's campaign fund for Sollars' personal use. When FBI agents raided Sollars house and city hall offices last February, they seized $205,993 in cash from his home, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release announcing the indictment.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider called it "blatant corruption" at the top levels of Taylor city government.

The indictment lists a total of 33 counts against Sollars, Baum and Awad.

Sollars has previously denied any wrongdoing. In an interview earlier this month, Sollars and his wife told freelance journalist Kevin DIetz the money seized from their house was winnings from Vegas and they have receipts to prove it.

The 45-year-old Democrat has been mayor of Taylor since November 2013 and previously served on the City Council.

Awad is the owner of Realty Transition LLC and Downriver Management, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges Sollars was a "silent partner" in Awad's real estate business.

Besides managing the city's Community Development Department, Baum served as treasurer of Sollars' political campaign fund, the indictment said.

The indictment was announced by Schneider and Steven D'Antuono, head of the FBI's Detroit field office.

"The unearthing of allegedly blatant corruption at the top levels of government in the CIty of Taylor should disturb every citizen of our state," Schneider said. "Federal law enforcement will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute any public officials who chose their personal greed over their public oath."

Tribune Content Agency