ROMULUS, Mich. (WXYZ) — A yearslong federal probe into corruption in Taylor appears to have spread to the city Romulus, according to a federal grand jury subpoena obtained by 7 Action News.
Romulus officials were ordered in June to turn over records from its foreclosed home rehabilitation program that ultimately did business with Realty Transition, a company owned by disgraced developer Shady Awad.
Awad was in indicted in 2019 and recently pleaded guilty as part of the feds' probe into Taylor, admitting that he lavished Mayor Rick Sollars with bribes ranging from cash to $50,000 in home renovations to an $1,800 cigar humidor. In exchange, Awad said, he received special access to foreclosed homes in Taylor.
Sollars has pleaded not guilty and is set to go to trial in January.
7 Action News shared the subpoena with Anjali Prasad, a former Asst. U.S. Attorney who spent years pursuing public corruption and today is a criminal defense attorney.
She says a grand jury subpoena like this is not used for fishing expeditions: if the feds are asking for something, there’s a reason.
“The feds follow the breadcrumbs,” Prasad said. “They don’t sit around saying, 'Maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that.’ They follow the breadcrumbs. They put the squeeze on you to get the breadcrumbs, and they follow the breadcrumbs.”
Records related to the city’s right of first refusal program obtained by 7 Action News show that in 2018, a special committee was formed to review proposals from four different developers to rehab foreclosed homes in Romulus.
The proposals were scored and Realty Transition was rated the third best proposal, receiving 12 points.
The top scoring company received 19 points, while the second plate company netted 16.
But Romulus Department of Public Services director Bob McCraight went on to recommend Realty Transition to Mayor LeRoy Burcroff, and the city council signed off on it.
Bill Kowalski, a former Asst. Special Agent in Charge for the Detroit FBI, said that may have peaked the feds interest, or the city made its way onto their radar through other means.
“Either Mr. Awad is cooperating under a proffer style agreement and…he’s giving them leads in other investigations,” Kowalski said, “or there is a search warrant executed or documents obtained during the Taylor investigation that perhaps divulged similar activities in another neighboring community.”
Earlier this year, Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff said he would not seek another term.
Not long after, a grand jury subpoenad his campaign records following a 7 Action News investigation that showed Burcroff used campaign money to cover personal expenses, like his daughter’s wedding.
Those same campaign records now show that, since May, Burcroff has paid criminal defense attorney Brian Legghio more than $40,000.
Legghio did not respond to calls seeking comment.
“It all could be very innocent, and there could be nothing untoward about these decisions,” Prasad said. “The problem is, once you get on the feds’ radar, they don’t let it go.”
Romulus’s new Mayor is now Bob McCraight, who recommended back in 2018 that the city go into business with Awad.
He would not agree to an on-camera interview, but said by e-mail that the committee’s scoring and recommendation was non-binding, adding that not all committee members had experience in building trades.
He said one of the contractors seeks the job had little experience. Another, he said, would only subcontract the work and received a “less than positive reference.”
McCraight said he’d worked with Realty Transition before, and believed they were the best choice. He saidi he has never received any gifts or items of value from Awad, and said he was unaware of any other current or former city officials who had either.
“Even if the decisions you made are defensible, the feds just aren’t going to let you go,” Prasad said. “ They’re going to take a look at that single Christmas gift you took or that single lunch you took and say, there it is. We got you.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on the grand jury subpoena. An attorney for Shady Awad did not return a call seeking comment.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.