By ZEINAB NAJM
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — Community development manager Jeffrey Baum, 46, of Allen Park pled guilty in federal court to conspiring to commit bribery with former Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars, and real estate developers Shady Awad, and Hadir Altoon.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, it is likely that Baum will face a sentence ranging between 46 and 57 months in prison and a maximum fine of up to $250,000.
Baum, who also was Sollars’ campaign treasurer of fund, who was on paid suspension from his city post, was fired after he pled guilty.
Baum was the third person to plead guilty in the bribery scheme — Awad and Altoon were the others — leaving Sollars as the lone person scheduled to stand trial on federal corruption charges next month. Awad pled guilty Oct. 22 and Altoon Oct. 27.
“Based on Mr. Baum’s plea agreement in Federal District Court, my administration has made the decision to terminate Mr. Baum’s employment with the city of Taylor, effective immediately,” Mayor Tim Woolley said in a statement. “In accordance with city policy, any details surrounding his termination will remain confidential to the extent permitted by law.”
According to a Nov. 30 press release from the Department of Justice Eastern District of Michigan, Baum admitted at his plea hearing to accepting thousands of dollars in cash bribes for himself and over $40,000 in cash payments to Sollars in connection with the city’s Right of First Refusal Program.
The ROFR Program is designed to allow Taylor to acquire tax-foreclosed properties from Wayne County for redevelopment.
According to court records, between 2017 and 2019, Baum helped Sollars steal money from Sollars’ campaign by giving Sollars blank campaign checks, bearing his signature as the treasurer of the campaign fund.
Altoon, with Baum’s assistance, would then prepare false and inflated invoices for catering services that were never rendered, or for catering services for which Altoon had already been paid by the city of Taylor. Altoon then issued the false invoices to Sollars’ campaign fund and completed blank campaign fund checks, provided to Sollars by Baum, in the amounts of the false invoices.
“Altoon cashed the campaign checks based on the false invoices at his store, Dominick’s Market, and gave Sollars cash and/or scratch-off lottery tickets in same amounts of the checks, totaling over $35,000,” the release said. “It was also part of the conspiracy and in exchange for kickbacks to Baum and Sollars. Baum, without the knowledge of Taylor City Council, but with the knowledge and approval of Sollars, fraudulently facilitated the transfers of tax-foreclosed properties that Taylor had awarded to other developers.”
Then, Baum transferred to Altoon two of Taylor’s tax-foreclosed properties that Taylor originally had awarded to another developer and also helped prepare an agreement to transfer nine properties that Taylor had previously awarded to Awad, to Altoon.
After Baum provided Altoon a list of nine properties that were eventually transferred or intended to be transferred to Altoon by Awad under this agreement, Baum accepted thousands of dollars in cash from Altoon. Over the course of the conspiracy, Baum also accepted hundreds of dollars in cash and gift cards from Altoon, according to the release.
“In addition, Baum accepted $5,000 in cash from Altoon for one of Sollars’ campaign fundraising events,” the press release said. “Baum also admitted that he accepted $5,000 in cash for a Sollars campaign event from another individual interested in doing business with the city. Both times, Baum gave the cash to Sollars and did not include receipt of the funds in Sollars’ campaign finance reports, as required.”
As part of the conspiracy, Baum also caused Taylor to dismiss approximately 21 tickets charging civil infractions, ranging between $150 and $200 each, that had been issued by Taylor against Realty Transition and Awad.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])