Michigan House speaker wants Inman to resign over federal bribery charges

Rep. Larry Inman (right) with Rep. Jon Hoadley (left) during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's budget presentation in March 2019 | Casey Hull

Facing a federal grand jury indictment over allegations that he sent text messages to union officials seeking bribes, state Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) is maintaining his innocence.

Inman was absent from House session on Wednesday. In a statement released through his attorney, he said he’s “innocent of these charges. I have never compromised the integrity of my vote. I have always represented my constituency honestly and legally. I intend on vigorously fighting these charges and defending my reputation.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Republicans, Feb. 19, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Chatfield reportedly told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that the conduct was “completely out of line.”Nonetheless, state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) has called on his fellow northern Michigan Republican to resign and is waiting to hear back from Inman, spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said.

Additionally, Chatfield has formally removed Inman from his committee assignments and his office is being run by the House Business Office.

When the Advance called Inman’s office Wednesday morning, the calls forwarded to the business office. No one appeared to be in Inman’s office in the House Office Building shortly before noon and the door was locked.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on Wednesday charged Inman with attempted extortion, bribery and lying to an FBI agent. If convicted of the charges, Inman could face up to 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Rep. Larry Inman’s office, May 15, 2019 | Nick Manes

The seven-page indictment alleges that Inman sought in summer 2018 to solicit bribes from unnamed union officials in exchange for voting against prevailing wage repeal, a big Republican priority. The law, which was ultimately repealed by the GOP-led Legislature, mandated union-level wages on certain public construction projects.

Text messages included in the indictment indicate that Inman separately texted two people affiliated with the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights (MRCC) union, telling them that there were few Republicans willing to vote against repealing prevailing wage. He urged the union officials to get more building trade unions willing to contribute money to 12 GOP lawmakers who could block the action.

“People will not go down for $5,000, not that we dont [sic] appreciate it,” Inman allegedly said in one of the texts. “Please get with the all the trades by Monday, I would suggest maxing out on all 12, or at least doubling what you have given them on Tuesday.”

Rep. Larry Inman (right) with Rep. Jon Hoadley (left) during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget presentation in March 2019 | Casey Hull

He added that “it’s not worth losing assignments and staff for $5,000 in the end,” according to the indictment.  In both conversations, Inman allegedly told recipients, “we never had this discussion.” He also noted that “Carpenters have been good to me,” apparently referring to campaign donations, and urged other trades to send checks and that each of the 12 lawmakers would need $30,000 each “to help there (sic) campaigns.”

The MRCC political action committee, for its part, donated $2,000 to Inman’s campaign committee during the 2017-18 campaign cycle, but they did donate following that. The last donation occured on Dec. 11, 2017.

In a statement, Mike Jackson, MRCC executive secretary-treasurer, said he’s “glad that Larry Inman is being brought to justice.

“Our members deserve elected officials who vote on the merits of a bill, and how it will affect us as taxpayers and hardworking people,” Jackson said.

Campaign finance disclosures show that the political action committee (PAC) for the Associated Builders and Contractors, the main group pushing prevailing wage repeal, gave Inman’s campaign committee $1,800 in 2018. $1,000 of that came less than a week after the repeal vote. The prior contribution occurred in February.

Mike Jackson

An analysis last year by watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network shows that around $5 million of interest group money poured into the fight over prevailing wage, with anti-union groups working for repeal and pro-union stakeholders wishing to keep the law.

Candidates largely voted based on which groups had supported their campaigns.

Inman, who would be term-limited if he stays in office until 2020, won an extremely narrow re-election bid last November, beating Democratic challenger Dan O’Neil by just 349 votes.

Given that Inman’s texts to the union officials indicate he was seeking contributions for other elected officials, as well, liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan said a full investigation is needed.

“We know Inman sent the text message ,but what we don’t know is who the other 11 elected officials are or what they knew about the scheme to sell their votes,” said Lonnie Scott, the group’s executive director. “It’s important to know the full scope of this scandal and the only way to get to the bottom of it is for both the House and Senate leadership to launch internal investigations immediately.”

The Michigan House | Michael Gerstein

For Voters Not Politicians, the group that organized last year’s successful Proposal 2 ridding the state of partisan gerrymandering, the Inman situation is another example of broken government.

“Every voter in Michigan – whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent – knows money in politics is, like gerrymandering, is a fundamental reason our government is broken,” Executive Director Nancy Wang said in a statement. “The next step to fix our broken government is for state Rep. Larry Inman to resign immediately, with a thorough investigation to follow to uncover how far this scheme has spread into our Legislature.”

The Michigan Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment. However, state House Democrats say they’re paying close attention to the situation as it unfolds.

Michigan Capitol, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

“The accusations in the federal grand jury’s indictment of Representative Inman are deeply concerning,” said House Democratic spokeswoman Samantha Hart. “While the Representative is innocent until proven guilty, the House has a responsibility to the people of Michigan to closely monitor the legal process as it unfolds.”

Chris Cracchiolo, chair of the Grand Traverse County Democratic Party, however, was emphatic in a statement that Inman resign immediately.

“If he does not we call on Speaker Lee Chatfield to begin immediate expulsion proceedings so the people of Grand Traverse County and Northern Michigan have a voice in the Legislature they know they can trust, not someone who faces charges of trying to squeeze money in return for votes,” Cracchiolo said.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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